Ocean travel without a boat

Journal of Peter Greenwell

Month: Feb 2013

Ultima 9: the original storyline

I do not own this document.

MAJOR SPOILER WARNING: If you have not finished the game, don’t read this. It contains massive spoilers from the plot that actually appears in the finished game.

For my thoughts on the game, see the Ultima IX: Ascension write-up.

My (Bob White – Origin developer) reason for answering [inquiries about the original plot] was really to show the fans how games and their stories evolve. Often times the evolution is out of our hands (via deadlines, corporate changes and such). The game you have now has a very good story and is an Ultima, I am sure Richard saw to that. Don’t let any bugginess in the product overshadow what the core of the game is. In time the bugs will be cleared up and the game will shine and all will be happy.

The old story was monumental in scope and because of a lot of factors things had to change and progress to what it is now. Would I have liked to seen the old plot completed….You bet! Am I disappointed it changed, not really since I expected it. New people on a project bring new ideas and new focuses and those are not necessarily bad. What you have is a talented core design team who assembled the best story for an Ultima that they thought possible. This was the same thing when I was there, but we had a different focus and different ideas. Which one is better…that is all up to individual tastes, but what is there now is still a great story and very Ultima.

Hats off to a a talented team for working through an unbelievable hard deadline and under very adverse conditions. They have created a monumental product and one they can be proud of. A big pat on the back to Bill, Chuck, Dave, Jim, Andy, Herman, Gary, Bev, Jennifer, Scottie-cakes, Scott, Bren, Michael, Bob, Seth, Richard, Amy, Carly and who ever else I missed. I am sure that Bill and his team of programmers are pulling their hair out nightly to kill off the bugs and make the game even better. I look forward to adventuring my way through Brittania…as soon as I get past my own deadlines 🙂



Rather than releasing the whole script, which I could still get in trouble for, I will synopsize the plot for you. When I came on board at Origin, the original ideas for what they wanted from a script were in place but it had not been written yet. John Watson, Brian Martin and Richard did the first pass at it. I was given the script and told to find holes in it. We all worked together (along with Chuck Zoch, at that time a designer…now programmer) toward the first re-writes and clean ups.

So here goes:

(opening Flic) The Avatar arrives at the start of the game in Britannia. His last thoughts are of being seized by the Guardian in Pagan. Suddenly he was pulled away and arrives back in LB’s realm. Unfortunately he doesn’t recognize where he is. Standing on a mountain overlooking the Guardian’s keep at Terfin. This is where the wyrmguard suddenly flies up and incinerates the Avatar.

Cut to scene of dark throne room with Guardian in shadow talking to Blackthorn. Blackthorn is happy at the Avatar’s death but Guardian realizes he was teleported away by someone and is now in Stonegate. Blackthorn wants to go after him, but Guardian says to wait. He wants the Avatar to see how he is destroying Britannia and wants the Avatar to despair.

Game opens: Avatar in bed in Stonegate with Hawkwind nursing him. Just to be certain the Avatar is fit and unchanged by his trip to Pagan and the teleport back here, Hawkwind asks the virtue questions, setting up the Avatar character for the game. He then tells the Avatar about what has happened since he left 80 years ago (time in Pagan ran so much slower). Giant columns appear through out the land. Somehow the columns are affecting the climate, drying up some areas and flooding others, in addition there are tearing through the ground causing earthquakes and volcanism on a great scale. These climactic changes have caused wide spread famine in some parts of the world. In addition a plague began to run rampant through the land probably caused by the deplorable conditions. The people of Moonglow were able to produce limited quantities of food via magic, some of which the export through the land. Britain monks found that the venom of the Silver Serpent would provide relief from the plague, but was no cure. Something happened (you discover later) and Britain refused to send serpentwyne to Moonglow and Moonglow refused to send food to Britain. The army divided and civil war is at hand. He then tells the Avatar to descend into the tunnels under Stonegate and travel via those dungeon passages to Britain and see Lord British. Hawkwind disappears saying he must rest a long time now since the summoning drained him so. The area of Stonegate, now surrounded by mountains and cut off by the sea, provided the training or tutorial area for the new interface.

Along the way to Britain, the Avatar is knocked unconscious by a teleport area that he must go through. He receives a vision (flic). The Guardian taunts the Avatar and says he is glad he will be able to watch while he shows Lord British what the Avatar was up to in Pagan. LB is has a waking dream and sees the Avatar summoning Pyros.

Once the Avatar arrives in Britain he has already had to deal with one wyrmguard (Damon) and is probably wearing the armor. People in Britain run from him and once at the castle, Geoffrey asks him to get rid of it. LB confronts the Avatar and wants to know about the dream but accepts the ideas that the Avatar had to do what is necessary, but he seems disturbed none-the-less. LB informs the Avatar that the world is almost at the brink of civil war. LB’s health began to decline rapidly a few years ago so he appointed a tribunal. The leader of Moonglow mages (Verona), the leader of the Valorian knights (Sir Corwin), and the leader of the Britain monks (Amoranth). Things went well at first, but once the columns rose, famine set in and the plague appeared they would feud with each other all the time. then when the shipment of food, bought and paid for) failed to arrive in Britain Amoranth accused Verona of treason and inhumanity, Verona screamed the same story about a serpentwyne shipment. Ever since then the world fractured into a group of city states. LB is worried since Britain and Moonglow are building armies, one commanded by Corwin’s daughter and the other by his son. If it were not for Corwin’s cooling factor with their generals, they would already be at war. He implores the Avatar to stop the civil war, stop the famine and plague and he thinks the columns are at the root of it all. LB tires quickly and due to him being so old a frail, he can no longer command the respect of his armies or people anymore and he still thinks the Tribunal is the best thing for the country. LB warns the Avatar to stay away from Asylum, that is run by dangerous, treasonous thugs.

The Avatar finds Shamino in the Abbey in Britain in a trance. He has to use the Bell, Book and Candle to free him. He finds out from Shamino that the rangers disappeared a few years back and he felt an unholy call luring him away. He placed himself in the trance in hopes that if the Avatar returns he could wake him and the call would be no more. Shamino no longer feels the call and joins up with the Avatar.

The Avatar sets off for the closest column near Despise. On his way he is co nfronted by wyrmguards in camp. During the fight a girl jumps into the fray and ends up spearing a female wyrmguard through the eye and driving them off. The Avatar is grateful and she introduces herself as Raven. Raven was sent to find the Avatar and bring him back to Asylum (Buc’s Den) and meet with her boss Samhayne. He has some clues to the problems and he knows the Avatar is here to help solve them.

In Despise the free one of the corrupt runes of virtue from the column, thus stopping its power.

They journey back to Britain and then on to meet Samhayne. Samhayne is like a benevolent Don Corleone. He has been running contraband food and serpentwyne throughout the world, even running the blockades of Moonglow and Britain. He knows that the war is closer than anyone thinks, but proof must be taken to LB to get him to dissolve the tribunal and try to assume command. Samhayne is not trustworthy in Shamino’s view and he wants proof of what is going on. Samhayne tells the Avatar to journey to Valoria and meet with Corwin. He will tell you the truth. Then come back here and we will get things going.

He travels to Valoria with companions and goes to see Corwin. Corwin and his new aide Darkblade meet with the Avatar. He explains the situation and confirms Samhayne’s suspicions. The Avatar convinces the Lord of Valoria to send word to his kids to disarm and meet at a negotiation table. He agrees once the Avatar gets him over his despair. The Avatar heads back to Asylum and meets with Samhayne. He tells LB that he must get more proof of the war preparations so that LB can confront the factions. The only way he can find out for sure is to make contact with Sam’s guild operatives inside Britain and Moonglow and “lift” some papers. Some of the guild objects to an outsider making guild contact so Samhayne talks the Avatar into joining the guild. The Avatar is branded with the secret sign and is sent on his way to his choice Moonglow or Britain.

During the sea voyage he gets another third person dream (flic) courtesy of the Guardian. This time LB sees the Avatar joining the nefarious Guild and being branded. LB becomes more distraught and is now wondering about the Avatar.

The plot branches here but funnels back together quickly. Avatar goes to Moonglow/Britain. Makes contact with a guild operative and gets a disguise. He enters the Court of Truth/Abbey of Love and during his riffling of desks and such overhears Amoranth/Verona and their lackey Ebontyne/Shadowbriar discuss the war preparation. Whichever is gone to first, the Avatar escapes with no problem. When spying on the second one the Avatar is discovered and is captured and knocked unconscious.

Here is another dream (flic). This time LB sees the Avatar thrown in prison for spying on one of the Tribunal members. LB looks like he is getting angry now.

Back to the game: The Avatar awakens in Wrong. Ebontyne/Shadowbriar stands before the doorway and morphs into Blackthorn. He taunts the Avatar telling him that he has been behind all the seeds of war, planting them in the mind of Amoranth and Verona. He tells the Avatar that his only stumbling block is Sir Corwin who is trying to get his kids to a bargaining table, thanks to the Avatar’s meddling, and by this time tomorrow Corwin won’t be troubling anyone any more. Blackthorn leaves and the Avatar and Raven (Also caught trying to free the Avatar while he was unconscious) their cell and dungeon (turning off another column along the way). the find Shamino outside and waiting. The run to find a ship and get to Sir Corwin as fast as they can, but by the time they arrive it is too late and he is already dead, but the body was stolen also. All that is left behind is an arrow.

Following the clue of the arrow and questioning Fletchers and Apothecaries (it was poisoned) leads to a description of the perpetrator, the female wyrmguard that Raven fought earlier. In addition one of the Apothecary is a medium and through a trance locates the body in the Well of Souls on the Ruined isle of Skara Brae. She tells the Avatar that a spell for speaking with dead cast upon the body would reveal the truth behind the assassination and that she foresees that this could stop the war. The Avatar and companions head to the Well, retrieve the body, fight a bone dragon lots of undead and turn off another column.

When they leave the dungeon a messenger arrives telling them the armies have taken the field near the shrine of justice. Avatar and friends hurry to the shrine in time to meet with Amoranth, Verona and the commanders. Verona casts the spell. Dead Corwin reveals that his lackey Darkblade is actually Ebontyne, Shadowbriar and Blackthorn and he is behind the war. Darkblade, who is in the tent, suddenly reverts to his Blackthorn form and the whole area is beset with wyrmguards and dragons. During the fight, Blackthorn exits kidnapping Amoranth and Verona and taunting the Avatar to come and get them at Terfin.

At the end of the fight Janna arrives with word that the other old companions awaits the Avatar in the sanctuary of Cove. They think they know where the Plague is coming from and what the columns are doing. The Avatar travels to Cove along the way another dream (flic). LB sees the Avatar stand before the armies of the world and now look to be swearing fealty to him. LB is furious as the Guardian whispers to him that the Avatar is planning to usurp the throne and seize Britannia. He will no longer allow the Avatar inside the Castle unless he has a member of the Tribunal with him

Once in Cove the Avatar learns that the columns are causing the plague. As long as they are powered the plague will continue. In addition they are like clock springs, winding up. Even if they are unpowered their energy is not released. In time they will “let go” and quite possibly rip apart the world. They also have now received reports that the Guardian is massing his wyrmguard and gargoyle army and is planning on attacking Britain and other cities. They must perform a pre-emptive attack before all of his forces can muster. Samhayne will provide ships and the army is ready but they need and air force and the only thing that could help are the dragons of Destard.

The Avatar journeys to Trinisic and goes to see the Queen of the Dragons in nearby Destard. He has to rescue her and a clutch of eggs from some new wyrmguard raiders after which she agrees to help. Now with all the forces moving to place, the Avatar sets off for the other dungeons in order to turn off the remaining columns, except the Abyss. He needs one of the Gargoyle lenses from LB to open the path . Once they are done a ship arrives to take Avatar and companions to Terfin to meet the Guardian and Blackthorn.

Lots of fighting and wandering in Terfin, finally the Avatar reaches the throne room and finds Blackthorn there, but the Guardian has already left for parts unknown. Blackthorn grovels and pleads for mercy. Shamino suggest bringing him to LB so he can confess. The Avatar takes Blackthorn to LB and he confesses. LB has Blackthorn put to death. LB is getting some strength and vigor back thanks to the shutdown of the columns (save one) and Hawkwind’s arrival in the castle a few days ago. Hawkwind warns that the columns are primed and will release soon destroying everything and funneling the power of that destruction into the Guardian making him greatly powerful. He says that the plan had been to keep the Avatar busy and off balance long enough for the columns to finish the wind up. Hawkwind says that the runes of virtue can save the populace if we can get them to Skara Brae as soon as possible. He says to place the runes at the carnal points of the compass marked on the island and the virtues will take care of the rest. He then indicates that LB and the Avatar must make a final journey to Stonegate to confront the Guardian for it was from there that he cast forth the runes to form the columns.

Before the Avatar can go to Skara Brae he gets the lens from LB (and one he got earlier from Vesagralem ,the Gargoyle king…another story) and journeys to the Abyss. He fights the Slasher of the Veils, turns off the column and releases Amoranth and Verona which journey with him back to Skara Brae.

Lots of people on Skara Brae when Avatar, LB, Verona and Amoranth arrive. Companions all stay while Avatar places runes and leaves with LB. They arrive at Stonegate and face the Guardian in one of the lower chambers and slay him, but LB is weakened in the battle. Hawkwind appears once more and tells the Avatar that even though the Guardian is defeated for he moment the power of the unleashed life energy when the columns let go will restore him and power him up. The life force of Britannia must be eliminated to defeat him for good. LB mentions the Armageddon spell. They must get to the roof of Stonegate pronto! Once getting there LB is incapable of doing the spell, he is too weak and decides if Britannia must die then he will go with his world. The Avatar discovers that he too must infuse himself into the spell and that he will “pass on” with its casting. Hawkwind’s voice tells him that this is but a step and that he will ascend beyond this realm to a higher place. Avatar casts the spell.

(The really freaking cool flic occurs): Spell of destruction rips forth from Stonegate moving forth in waves across the land. Deer flash into ashes, trees blow up, cities are destroyed. Worried people stand on Skara brae as they can see the wave of destruction heading their way. Suddenly waves of light pulse from the runes and lines of power form a dome over the island just as the destructive wave hits. Slowly the island pulls loose from the planet (looks like an old Roger Dean painting form the Yessongs album) and rockets out into space. A cut from above shows the speck of light zooming off into the distance with most of Britannia and the companions on board. Slowly we see the planet crack and tear apart, then a final explosion. Closing credits.

Roxy Music – Avalon

This was the last record Roxy Music cut before they disbanded (they’ve consequently re-united). It was a band that I’d heard nothing of or about at the time, but I liked the look of the album, with its warrior gazing over the still lake motif. In this case, you can rightly judge a book by its cover, for everything inside this record is a gem. “Making out music for yuppies” was how one critic called it. Maybe it is, with Bryan Ferry‘s seductive crooning and the expansive sheets of synth flowing over it all. Verily, you could call it “away with it” music and you’d be spot on. It’s all beautiful.

There’s not a weak song on this record and they all wonderfully stand on their own merits. Some of the songs contained within are among the most gorgeous things ever written anywhere, namely More Than This, Take A Chance With Me (album highlight) and While My Heart Is Still Beating. To Turn You On, the title track and True To Life are up there somewhere in the ionosphere as well.

Critics say this is the maturation of a theme started on previous albums like Manifesto and Flesh and Blood. I agree and in a perverse way, I’m glad they quit when they did, for I think they couldn’t have bettered this record if they tried. It’s that damned good.

Go out and get it and prepared to be placed under a seductive, swaying spell.


Rush – Permanent Waves

This is album number seven for Rush. It’s different from everything that came before it and very different from everything that came after. Gone are the long prog-rock pieces, replaced by sharp and heavy precise songs. Guitars are front and centre here and it’s all glorious. From the opening (and famous) riff of The Spirit of Radio right to the glittering end of Natural Science, you’re in classic album land.

Fans and critics cite their next record, Moving Pictures as Rush’s best. Negative. This is their best. That other LP is a little too wide-ranging, a touch too non-cohesive to be considered a classic in my eyes. It’s good, but not that great.

This LP, on the other hand, is great. As I said, guitars are up the front on this LP and they crunch, especially on cuts like Entre Nous and Freewill. Even the soft, gentle Different Strings doesn’t sound out of place here.

Of course, the musicianship is what you’d expect of Rush and there’s exquisite playing everywhere.

This was the first Rush LP I ever listened to and it remains my favourite. They were never quite this hard or heavy again and it’s definitely the pivot album of their career. All that came before was mystic progressive rock, long winding and complex pieces, and all after (up to Test For Echo anyway) was generally softer with far more prominent keyboard work.

This is the Canadian trio’s magnum opus. And they never did an LP cover quite as awesome ever again!

permanent waves

Running Stonekeep in DOSBox

This is using the latest make of DOSBox. This guide would also work well for anyone who’s bought the game through GOG. You just need to ignore the install bit and refer to changing screen size only.

To avoid old hoary games playing in a tiny-assed window on my monitor, I changed the relevant lines in dosbox.conf to read:

dosbox settings

You cannot resize the window (apart from alt-entering it to fullscreen), if output is set to surface. Setting it to opengl (assuming you’re using manufacturer’s drivers, not OS native ones – this is important!) allows you to resize it, which I’ve done by replacing the default window resolution setting to 1024×768. This works like a charm for Stonekeep. Alt-entering it makes it looks awful, pixellates it, and if you’re using a widescreen monitor, it stretches it unnaturally.

Stick your Stonekeep CD in the drive (this assumes you have a legal copy, right?). Install and start DOSBox being mindful of the suggestions above.


Mount your hard drive and CD drive by doing:

mount c c:dir where dir is the directory on your hard drive you want to mount. For the sake of this tutorial I installed Stonekeep on my D: drive (hence the line on the above screenshot). Your mileage may vary.

Mount the CD by doing:

mount d d: -t cdrom where d is your CD’s drive letter.

Install Stonekeep, switching to the CD by doing d: then install. Do not install it in the default location it puts there. Change it to something simple like c:SK. Let it do its thing. The verifying copied files dialogue may take some time to get through, and it may appear it’s hung. It hasn’t – let it go – it’ll pass it. Once to the setup screen, configure digital and normal sound and movie resolution. Then exit.

Then navigate to where you installed Stonekeep (i.e c:sk) and type SK.

Enjoy that kick-ass intro and the retro gaming.

Stonekeep in dosbox

The B52s – Cosmic Thing

Every now and then, an album is released where every cut is a winner. Every song. No filler, no padding, no weak tracks. Cosmic Thing is such an LP. Disclosure: I’ve not listened to any of their other albums, bar the first one, so I’ve nothing to compare it with in their oeuvre. But that doesn’t really matter.

From the raging, happy opening title track to the last languid refrains of Follow Your Bliss there are ten songs of pure wonder. Upbeat, chirpy, poppy and very happy songs at that. Everyone on Earth has heard and grooved to Love Shack and Roam, and these are representative of the music within Cosmic Thing. Representative and not standing out as is the case for most other singles on an album. Songs like Bushfire, Junebug and Channel Z are every bit as a good.

The LP just shimmers and floats along on cosmic vibes and you know, it’s impossible to feel down while listening to it. Yes, it’s that good. So good in fact, I’m a little hesitant to go and check out their other work in case I get let down.

This is a watershed album for pop rock. Little comes close to it. Go forth and find it, and confront your life with joy. It truly is a cosmic thing.

cosmic thing

An ode to the Commonlands

This is about Everquest 2’s Commonlands not Everquest 1. In the prior game they were two zones, East and West but I believe they’ve since been merged.

commonlands 1

Sunset between the towers

I have a love affair with this zone. This is where Sony got it right with zone design. Later levels in EQ2 follow the same pattern – large convoluted areas cordoned off by super-high cliffs. Compare this to the Moors of Ykesha, which is an island suspended on an 8000 feet cliff! That’s how they all are now – vast cliffs everywhere. In contrast, the Commonlands is a huge plain, easily traversable. It’s perfect.

That’s not to say there’s no variety – there is. It has it all, canals, ponds, streams, bridges, docks, ruins, deserts, gorges, villages, caves and even a few graveyards to spice things up. It lacks a forest, but if you really need that, go next door to Nektulos Forest.

Highlights of the zone include: the Crossroads in the central eastern past, which is a quest hub for lowbie evil characters. Wailing Caves in the north-east, which is a lowbie dungeon. Farther west, there’s the Dog Trapper lake and the entrance to Darklight Woods. The wizard spires are in this vicinity too. To the south is the realm of the Bloodskull orcs, farther west is the Ruins of Val’Marr with its resident High Priest, and the Lady Anyanka Polevshi, a ghost. Lions and wisps live north of here, at the Druid Rings and just north of that is the Tower of Zarvonn.

Something for everyone and it manages to be both logically laid and out and well-spread and not divided by mountain walls like other zones are. It’s all good.

The soaring mountains...

Those soaring mountains…