Ulysses and the Golden Fleece
A glimpse at one of the most important and challenging videogames ever created.
The world of computergames is one of which most people are unaware. To play them, a personal computer is required; these are not yet in every household. The barriers are breaking down as low price models such as the T1900A (see last issue) and the Atari 800 become more and more popular.
However, none of these computers can match the power of, for example, an Apple III. Accordingly, while the games are far more detailed than Intellivision, Odyssey, or related videogames, none is quite as dramatic as full-fledged computergames. And few computergames are quite as dramatic as Ulysses and the Golden Fleece.
Created by Bob Davis, the game paints a new, full-color panorama for every step of the journey taken by Ulysses. Whether the hero turns west, east, north, or south, there is a striking vista to greet him.
There are also demands to tax even the most diligent player. Your trek begins in a town square. In due course, you must visit the king for gold and a ship, then buy yourself supplies and hire a crew. There is also a chest to unbury in a dark wood, magic items to find and learn to use, storms at sea, uncharted islands complete with caverns to explore and disasters to avoid.
The computer gives you very little. It gives you the picture and provides a few parameters (ie, you can’t go west, you can’t climb the wall, you are in the king’s vineyard, etc.). You communicate with it using two word instructions, GO EAST, TALK GUARD, LOOK TREE, and so on. The game’s vocabulary is quite extensive.
However, it is up to the player to apply every last bit of logic to find the Fleece. For example, there is a guard at the docks. You can go past him — or you can stop and chat. Both will not help you in the long run. But if you order the computer BRIBE GUARD, you will be rewarded with a map. Similarly, you may walk through the forest trying to find the chest and not think to ask for a closer look at a knothole — in which there just happens to be some magic dust. Encountering a wall of flame, you may turn away without thinking to return to a nearby river and drench yourself to get through. (Which, by the way, will result in your immolation. There’s another way to penetrate the fire which you’ll have to discover on your own. That’s the least of your problems, of course: behind the blaze lie a dragon and the great god Pluto.)
The point is, after an hour of gathering supplies and braving numerous perils, you may encounter the God Neptune and say the wrong thing to him, resulting in the sinking of your boat and the premature end of the game.
In all, computergaming is a thoughtful, patience-trying, ever-exciting pastime. Above all, however, it’s an astonishing experience, a more personal form of escapism than motion pictures, more creative, involving and certainly less predictable. Ulysses and the Golden Fleece is but one of hundreds of programs currently on the market; in upcoming issues you’ll be reading about other games which push at and expand the breadth of videogaming, and about new technologies which are helping to make them accessible to more and more consumers. At present, only diehard game buffs can justify the nearly $2000 expense of the hardware to play the software. However, enough people have made the move into computing for personal applications to nearly double game sales since last year.
Ulysses and the Golden Fleece is manufactured by On-Line Systems, 36575 Mudge Ranch Rd., Coarsegold, CA 93614. It’s available in versions for most of the popular personal computers.
The people behind the diskettes
The creator of Ulysses and the Golden Fleece is twenty-seven year old Bob Davis, an articulate and enthusiastic advocate of computergaming. Videogaming Illustrated spoke to Bob about his career and about the inspiration for his remarkable game.
VI: How did you become interested in computers?
BD: I’m actually a virgin — or rather, a rookie. I’ve only been at this a year. Before that, I sold chickens, and before that I was a professional musician. Not too glorious. Now I’m on staff at On-Line, where my job is programming, helping to come up with new games.
VI: Did you have any formal training?
BD: No, just on-the-job.
VI: The capabilities of the computer far exceed the more popular home videogame systems, yet their impact is only beginning to be felt in the field. Where are they going to go from here?
BD: First of all, we’re going to see increasingly better sound and graphics. There will also be longer games. A good adventurer, staying awake around the clock, would probably take two weeks to complete Ulysses and the Golden Fleece. The rest of us will need six months. Our new Time Zone (covered last issue) will take you longer still. In a broader sense, within five years or so we’ll be seeing computers hooked up to every phone and every television. The games will offer not only voice synthesis, which some already have, but voice recognition as well. We’ll play them quite possibly in conjunction with special effects generated by videodiscs; certainly we’ll be playing with friends in different parts of the country.
VI: And pundits say that computers are dehumanizing! What can the computer bring to the “Dungeons and Dragons” medium which dice and boards cannot?
BD: With dice, you aren’t working with any logic. It’s all chance. In computergaming — contrary to popular opinion — the computer doesn’t do any thinking for you, it only acts the way you tell it.
VI: One last question. Why did you slip the Ulysses character into the story of Jason?
BO: I bastardized it because Columbia Pictures had made a movie about the subject, and I wanted to avoid potential copyright problems. Reality has to intercede somewhere!
A TASTE OF COLD STEEL
It’s impossible to capture the scope of Ulysses and the Golden Fleece without the benefit of the color graphics and the complete scenario of the game.
However, to give you a sampling of what your days and nights would be like on a voyage with the renowned adventurer, here are actual exchanges you will have with the computer while making the right — and some wrong — moves with the program.
The player’s input is represented by “P”, the computer’s responses by “C”. Remember: directors are indicated simply by indicating north, east, south, or west. Furthermore, you cannot skip any steps. For example, you cannot read the note below until you’ve first removed it from the bottle. The program is not tricky, merely meticulous.
|C:||You are on a three-way road in a small town in Ancient Greece. There is a store to the west with a fence next to it.|
|C:||You are in an alley in a small village. There is a tavern to the north and a store to the south. There is a gold coin here.|
|C:||You see nothing special.|
|C:||You are in a small tavern. Sometimes sailors wait here hoping for work. There are doors to the south and east.|
|C:||They don’t feel like talking. They need work.|
|C:||Everyone looks at you in disgust. I think you had better find some money first.|
|C:||Find it yourself.|
|C:||They have no use for the coin.|
|C:||You are on some docks. There seems to be a bottle floating here.|
|C:||There is a note in it.|
|C:||He asks, “Do you have permission to pass from the king?”|
|C:||The guard checks and says, “I do not have that in my records. You may not pass.”|
|C:||That was rather foolish. The guard lops off your head with one fell swoop. Thank you for playing Ulysses and the Golden Fleece.|
Had you tried a tack other than killing the guard, you’d have been more successful, for instance:
|C:||Are you attempting to bribe a guard?|
|C:||The guard accepts the bribe and gives you a map.|
This map will prove useful on your journey — although, first, you must backtrack and find the king, getting both his permission to sail and the money to hire sailors, one of whom happens to be Hercules.
Always challenging, invariably frustrating, the program is a harbinger of participatory entertainment which is going to revolutionize the way people everywhere spend their leisure time.