This week on Super Adventures I'll be... looking for the quit option on this menu. I'm not giving up just yet, my attention span hasn't gotten that bad, but someday I will eventually want to turn the game off and I'm not seeing a way to do that. Do I just reboot my PC or something? See, this is what I don't get about classic DOS RPGs: how to do things in them. They baffle me. I realise that part/all of my problem is that I don’t read manuals, but have you seen those things? They’re nothing but words and pictures, cover to cover, and who can be bothered with that any more?
Anyway this week on Super Adventures I’m taking a quick look at Martian Dreams aka. Ultima: Worlds of Adventure 2 – Martian Dreams. You'd think this was the sequel to a game called Ultima: Worlds of Adventure, seeing as that's how titles typically work, but it actually follows on from Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire. I guess Origin got bored of the Worlds of Ultima brand after one game. On the bright side at least this is more alphabetically convenient.
Martian Dreams is one of the earliest Ultimas to be developed primarily for DOS PCs instead of Apple IIs, and the first to be exclusive to the system. More importantly it'll be the first of the Ultima games I've ever played... for more than 5 minutes. I was looking for an interesting space sci-fi RPG game to follow Mass Effect 3 and I found this in my GOG library, so I figured I'd give it a shot. I'm not deliberately picking out games with 'Adventure' in the title I promise.
Wing Commander (more or less). I should've expected it seeing as they're by the same developer and were released a year apart, but I didn't. It's a shame someone broke Mars though. They've done a good job gluing it all back together but I can still tell.
This is about the point where I'd want to see a main menu screen, but the game's so eager to get to the plot that it's dragging me straight into the intro.
The game explains that at the Columbian Exposition of 1893, Astronomer Percival Lowell (that's Astronomer with a capital 'A') publicly unveiled what he called his “Space Cannon”, which is basically a cannon that shoots things into space. Of course in real life visitors would've been far more interested in the giant floating city of Columbia presented by Zachary Hale Comstock... whose tale was later told in the interactive historical drama BioShock Infinite.
Percival Lowell was definitely a real guy though, even though my spell checker keeps insisting I should change his name to 'Perceivable'. He famously believed that Mars was criss-crossed with canals, making it look a lot like in the OriginFX animation above, but this was later proved false by NASA's Marina missions. I'm not sure what his beliefs were regarding shooting people to Mars in a cannon, but if he was a Jules Verne fan he'd have been thinking of a barrel hundreds rather then tens of meters long.
Percival gathers the greatest minds of his day to explain the Mission to Mars he has in mind (that’s ‘Mission’ with a capital ‘M’), but disaster strikes! And by ‘disaster’ they mean ‘some asshole deliberately lit the ignition fuse’.
I love this stylish cockpit by the way. If the Wright Brothers were as pimp as Percival their first aeroplane would’ve had leather seats and a stewardess. Like Doc Brown, Percival feels that if you're going to travel somewhere amazing you might as well do so in style, even if it does end up doubling the ship's mass. He's even got an ornate chandelier, plus artificial gravity and inertial dampeners, judging by the fact there's no pilot seat and he's standing upright in a ship tilted 30 degrees.
The cannon discharges a day early, launching the bullet-shaped vessel into space!
Hang on, a DAY early? Percival got the greatest minds together to propose a space mission for tomorrow? Cutting it a bit late wasn’t he?
The biggest problem I've got with Martian Dreams so far is that this scene doesn't loop like this in game. They barely even give you a chance to notice the hat bouncing off the guy's head!
This is a really weird scene, I don't get it at all. Three short explosions, three long explosions, then three more short explosions, it makes no... MORSE CODE! Duh, I'm an idiot. But who do they expect to get help from anyway?
I haven't seen The Martian yet so I don't know how well Matt Damon does in his solo edition of I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Off Mars, but I'm pretty sure these folks will have all starved to death before I can complete my 10 month journey to the red planet. Unless I'm playing as one of the people on Lowell's accidental expedition.
Anyway yes, sure, ask away mate.
Sigmund’s presumably using his multiple choice questions to determine my class, like the G.O.A.T. test in Fallout 3 (or y’know, the Ultima games). But I’m not trying to steer him in any particular direction, mostly because I haven’t a clue what stats the questions could relate to.
“You are once again a child. Your mother calls you in away from play with your friends. Would you A) obey and go inside at once, or B) defy her wishes and remain with your friends?”Uh... if I pick A do I get to be a paladin?
Sigmund tells me he’ll be publishing his findings someday but won’t be including my name. Because it is dumb. Actually you know what really is dumb? I have to run the game's installer to wipe my current character if I want to change my choices or start again. C'mon Origin, the game came out at least 5 years after the invention of multiple save slots. Wing Commander has about 8 of them!
I can’t say I’m 100% impressed with the tiny window or the crappy scrolling, and that weird Ultima perspective where everyone constantly leans to the left but never falls over enrages me to this day… but I do like how they all slide across the piano bench as they walk across the ship.
Seriously though I'm fighting the urge to tilt my head 45 degrees here.
I like the Victorian Era priorities these adventures have though. The entire middle third of this spaceship is reserved for the purposes of playing the pipe-organ. They couldn’t fit spacesuits, science equipment, beds, toilets or an airlock in here as it’d ruin the acoustics, but they did at least squeeze in a sofa so I can have an audience. I really can play a tune on the thing too, using the number keys.
The exit’s jammed, so I guess I have to talk to everyone until someone gives me a crowbar or something. I’m sharing this spacebus with some interesting historical figures, like inventor Nikola Tesla, journalist Nellie Bly, video game developer Warren Spector... wait, what?
Deus Ex and Epic Mickey (and also this). I like his rabbit tie.
The game doesn't provide a set of dialogue choices, instead I have to type in keywords like in Wasteland. So I tried asking him about 'Ultima' and 'Lord British' and he was actually pretty talkative. Moreso than Nellie Bly who apparently doesn't know a damn thing about anything.
I decided to look up Johann online and realised I was seeing screenshots from an intro my copy of the game doesn't have. Or at least that's what I thought until I tried clicking the 'Run Introduction' option in the menu. Turns out that intro I showed earlier is actually a prologue to the introduction, and it's the other introduction that explains who I am
The two heroes arrive in 1895 find Freud, Tesla and others planning a Mars expedition to investigate what happened to the 1983 expedition. Well more than planning, they're about to leave right now.
"Mr. Avatar, Dr. Spector, if you have any further questions, I'll be happy to answer them when we arrive on Mars."What, you won't have time to chat on the way? Can I at least go take a piss first?
Okay, now I know that these guys took a second ship, things are starting to make more sense. Though they still haven't explained why the Avatar ends up as a woman when she gets there.
I went to chat with Mr Garrett like Tesla suggested, and the man gave me a prybar. He also suggested I go check the hold for other gear, so I ‘USE’d the hold door and went looking for treasure.
There’s got to be a faster way of picking up items than this though. Right now I'm stuck picking up every item individually to get to the one I want and each character has their own inventory (and limited carry capacity) so it’s awkward to pass things around.
After examining the rest of the hold I've collected guns, bullets, a thousand types of tools, a sextant, a lamp oil, a tent… I’ve got so much stuff right now. It’s just a shame I can’t recruit more people to carry it all, but they’re being miserable. I even grabbed a spare machete for Freud but he just wants to write his bloody book.
So basically if we hadn't come, Nellie Bly would be hiking around this world solo. So basically business as usual for her.
Lowell shot every damn near every celebrity into space and Tesla's response was to fire off the rest of them, but it never occurred to anyone to wonder how getting ourselves wrecked right next to the other ship with no way to get back actually helps anyone. We're just gonna keep shooting smart people at the problem until it gets solved I guess.
On the plus side our eyes didn't pop out, so there's that.
A SHORT WALK ACROSS THE BARREN SURFACE OF MARS LATER.
On the plus side I've found some Martian jumping beans, which means I have something to kill for experience points. Combat occurs on the field, with things getting a bit turn based when the fighting starts. I've set Nellie to waste my pistol ammo from a distance while Dr. Spector uses blades up close so they're doing their own thing automatically. I've got direct control over my own character but all I'm doing is selecting 'Attack' and clicking the enemy to hack away with a saber in one hand, then again to smack them with the pry bar in the other. Maybe I'd be better off fighting one handed or switching to a machete, but with no numbers anywhere it's hard to tell.
I'll write down the coordinates though so I can find it again later. Oh damn, I should've been drawing up my own map as I go!
Doom hexagon tiles. This endless wall is blocking my path so I'm going to see if I can walk around it, maybe find the front door to the place.
Hang on, this isn't a walled city, this is a Martian canal! No wonder it never ends, this thing may actually stretch across the entire planet.
This Martian cactus stuff is nasty, as it swarms around my group, pouring in from off screen. I probably should've made a run for it, but that doesn't always work out great as my sidekicks get drawn into fights and before I know it they've disappeared off screen somewhere.
Fortunately the game lets me save at any time, and I have, so I've lost next to no progress. Unfortunately I've also made next to no progress, aside from getting hopelessly lost in the wilderness.
Oh hang on, there is a man outside.
Dibbs here explained that the survivors of the Lowell expedition basically split into four groups and set up camp in the Martian ruins, with one group led by GRIGOR RASPUTIN. Yep they even let the Mad Monk on this Mission to Mars. I also got an explanation for the title as apparently Lowell's group were all driven mad by a dream machine in an abandoned city and now believe that they're Martians.
Anyway my friend here knows all of the coordinates so I’ve got places to go now. On foot. Slowly. Dibbs feels I should go look for the traders first and I think that's a damn fine idea, as long as he joins my crew.
You can see here that character have got just the three attributes: strength (sword), dexterity (heart) and intelligence (book). There's no perks or skills or anything like that to worry about.
Now I just need to figure out where these traders are at. Maybe there's a map online I can follow. Oh damn, I never thought to check if a map came with the game!
There's also a clue book included with the GOG release that contains a better map, but it seems to give everything away so I can't use it. Though I'm really tempted, seeing as I can't find these traders anywhere.
OH! I'm at 129E, I need to be at 129W. So I need a whole lot less E and a whole lot more W.
SEVERAL MILES WEST.
I was all hyped when I found a lever alongside the canal but like the doors in basement earlier it doesn’t work without the power turned on. Half the doors around here are shut as well which is definitely getting in the way of my looting.
I do know that a total party kill leads to a free trip back home with full health (and presumably some consequences), but it'd be quicker for me to just reload my last save. Not that I get more than one save slot to load from.
Turns out all I had to do was follow a walkthrough. Actually I had to follow three walkthroughs as the first two assumed any idiot could find their way to a set of coordinates by themselves. To be fair how was I expected to know that 129W was east of 146E?
Calamity Jane has a shop here trading clothes and ammo for oxy rocks, plus an actual honest quest for me. Yes somehow even Calamity Jane and Buffalo Bill ended up on this accidental space mission. To be fair Buffalo Bill actually was at the Columbian Exposition in real life (though my half-assed research tells me Jane wasn't).
My job is to find out what's happened to their supplier, but they can't give me the coordinates of his home, just a bridge along the way. I'm starting to miss quest markers right about now.
I’m really having to lean on the walkthrough more than I’d like here, but I’m utterly clueless about what to do here and not going back to Calamity Jane to go through every possible way of saying ‘dead end’ until she gives me a hint.
Aha, there’s another cave entrance down the path outside. I was able to shove some boxes out of the way in cave #2 to find the supplier in there and complete the quest. The weird thing is, I had to check the walkthrough to figure out what to do with the boxes blocking the path (not many RPGs let you just push treasure chests) and it says that I skipped a step. What I was ACTUALLY supposed to do is eat some purple berries to get the power of telekinesis and then move that plank in cave #1 over the gap with my mind. A little further in I would've found a note leading to cave #2.
So yeah purple berries give you telekinesis, you'd think the traders might have mentioned that. For all I know they actually did, but I definitely don't remember it.
I've figured out how to quit though!
I have to admit, Ultima: Worlds of Adventure 2 - Martian Dreams is not what I expected. I haven't really played an Ultima before so I imagined it was going to be a real bastard of a game in every respect, with a bafflingly complex combat system and level of challenge that only the most hardcore could appreciate. But nah it's actually been pretty straightforward so far.
There aren't all that many top down RPGs like this on my site, but of the ones I have played this feels like the mid-point between Wasteland and Fallout, except without all those pesky skills and perks. I was worried the game would have me hunting food and water to keep my levels topped up, but aside from a small stat drop whenever they were out of oxium, my team seemed to survive just fine without. As long as they wrapped up warm, they were good.
I just didn't find there to be much for me to latch onto besides the story and that was delivered with an awkward keyword conversation system that drained a lot of my interest away. The actual gameplay involves a lot of walking across the featureless red landscape checking the sextant every few screens to make sure you're going the right way. Combat involves clicking attack on enemies over and over, or making a tactical retreat when a million hostile cacti swarm across the screen. Making a tactical retreat involves running away, clicking the combat lever off over and over until your people get the hint (or get killed off screen).
So I wasn't really won over by this one, which is a shame because I've beaten all of BioWare's space RPGs and I could do with another solid sci-fi game to get into.