Qt3 Classic Game Club #5: Ultima Worlds of Adventure 2: Martian Dreams

Everything about Martian Dreams makes me giddy, I admit. First of all: Mars. Not many settings can compete with the alien world nearest to our home. And Martian Dreams doesn’t give it the gung-ho treatment of a Red Faction. Nor does it have the technical coldness of a rover or colonization sim (as cool as those can be). Rather, it admirably constructs a place that could have flowed from the imagination of Ray Bradbury, who knew that Mars and Martians could tell us a lot about Earth and ourselves.

Then there’s the history. Not history told through some dusty tome. Not a calculated reconstruction of some past time or place. This is history through characters: Percival Lowell, Nikola Tesla, Andrew Carnegie. Mark Twain! Marie Curie! Tiffany and Rasputin! I love the joyful, colorful way they are sprinkled around on Mars, each with their special role to play in the story.

Finally, and more abstractly, I love the balance in the game between exploring a world and following the story’s objectives. This is an RPG–it’s got a party with stats and a simulated world–but it’s very story-driven, really an adventure game in RPG clothing. Mars is a broken world, and it has broken the human societies that have arrived there, and there are some specific things you need to do to fix it all.

This is a ripping steampunk yarn with an appropriately pulpy sensibility that nevertheless is smart and genuinely intriguing.

Martian Dreams was made by Origin in 1991, and it sports all the gameplay features of its parent-game, Ultima VI: The False Prophet: A nearly seamless open world, rich simulated environments populated with hundreds of items (many useful, some purely ornamental), a solid and useful conversation system, an accessible combat system. As Warren Spector tells it, Origin realized it should still produce games between the major releases headed by Richard Garriott and Chris Roberts, so it looked to its more junior designer-producers, Jeff Johannigman and Spector. They made these self-contained spin-offs from the Ultima world, both with pulp slants: Savage Empire and Martian Dreams, respectively.

And they are self-contained, just to be clear. Although it’s the second in a series of spin-offs of a venerable decade-old franchise, Martian Dreams sloughs off all the Ultima baggage with some quick time travel and a rocket-load of characters you are never going to see in Brittannia.

I hope you’ll find Martian Dreams as lovable as I do. If you’re skeptical, at least you can try it FREE from GOG.com!

GOG’s version has the very useful map, a manual and reference card that will help you get used to the primary interactions if you’re not familiar with the Ultima 6 engine, and also a cluebook that might help save you some time on a few of the quest branches if you really need it. You WILL need to take some notes, particularly of Lat/Long coordinates of different landmarks.

Enough blather. Hop onboard the space cannon with Nikola Tesla, Sigmund Freud, and Warren Spector himself, and let’s go to Mars!

So Martian Dreams it is.

I actually own a boxed copy, yet never got around to play it in earnest, so it’s nice to do it here I guess.
(You break your own semi-rule and selected an RPG after an RPG though.)

Have fun playing along everyone.

Edit: I installed this and gave it a short tour. Man, anyone complaining about aged UI in Darklands is sure in for a rough ride. I forgot how primitive the U6 interface is, with conversations actually utilizing a text parser in which you have to type buzzwords and a neither-fish-nor-meat mouse/keyboard implementation that requires you to constantly give prefab commands (USE LOOK GET etc.).



I only remember 2 of the 3 standard keywords.
Anyways, I’ll be joining this one. I’ve only played U3 and U4 a long time ago, but I’ve long ago bought the Origin Ultima Collection box (fully intending to play), and it’s one of a small handful of PC games which I’ve kept all the packaging.

I hope I don’t have to make maps; I don’t have graph paper anymore.

I can’t say I’m thrilled by this selection. Honestly above any other genre older cRPG’s are hard for me to get in to, especially the ones >20 years old using text parsers. Darklands was difficult to get in to, though I enjoyed it once I did. Still the price is right, and the Ultima series is very fondly remembered, so I’ll give this a fair shake. The setting though, much like Darklands, is aimed squarely in my direction, so I should find some hook to grab on to.

That’s true, but it was very consciously done (as I noted in the game club origin thread) because it’s so totally different in its approach than Darklands. I thought the contrast might make for fruitful discussions. As I say, it’s really almost an adventure game with RPG trappings.

As for the interface, I agree it’s an awkward hybrid sometimes, but I would recommend using the keyboard as much as possible (arrows for movement, hotkeys for actions). The mouse can help with character/inventory management.

KaoFloppy–Nope, no maps! Was that ever an Ultima thing? I think of that as a Might & Magic thing.

Thanks for pointing out for those who don’t read the manual that NAME and JOB are really important keywords to say to every character you meet!

CraigM–I hope this ends up being a pleasant surprise. In this case, it’s the story and setting that will grab you, if anything does.

This is history through characters: Percival Lowell, Nikola Tesla, Andrew Carnegie. Mark Twain! Marie Curie! Tiffany and Rasputin!

How could you forget Sigmund Freud?

I’m on the fence about the choice. I received this free from GoG a while back and have tried twice without success to get into it. The text parser to me is a bit of a killer. I also felt it was too linear, but I never got far so my opinion is probably mis-informed. (Also was hoping for a strategy title!)

On the plus side, I love the steampunk ahistorical setting. Gonna try it again now. For those who are interested, the manual and cluebook are great help from what I remember of my earlier tries.

To Mars!

In U3/U4 I mapped the dungeons, and I might have mapped the overworld to find some hidden but mandatory places.

My preferences is for on-rails RPG, so I may end up really liking this. (I wonder why I love U4…)

I played for a bit more and … yeah, I’m having a bit of a hard time coming to terms with the ancient UI.
I got used to typing out conversations, but there’s so many design decisions that seem … hostile, even compared to Darklands, which is not THAT much newer.
For example, the constant need to use the sextant and the absence of a map screen. I’m not sure if U6 had a map screen (I’m pretty sure U7 had a map in the equipment you could use), but at least U6 had a “natural” world with roads and paths and so on - in Martian Dreams, you just wander around aimlessly until you run into the green-slime-equivalents and are overpowered by them. Or freeze to death in the night (protip: Is that a tent in your backpack or are you just happy to see me?).
Or run into a wall that stretches to the horizon in either direction…


Awesome, I had this one for free from GOG as well, just never got around to playing it. I’m a little afraid that I will handle this game much like Darklands, jump in and get hopelessly lost and then just wander off to find another game to play. Then again, I was addicted to most of the early Ultimas, though I never did play Ultima 6 which this one seems to share a setup with. But as a fan of classic games I will certainly put my free game where my mouth is and give it a go.

I love reading these threads about old games I’ve played (or hadn’t - like this)… Who has time for extra games after a Steam sale? :)

Well, I was playing One Way Heroics, so it would be nice to be able to go right and not die.

Manuals! 2 whole manuals to read first. Perfect for reading while waiting for compile/deploy.

So I think you’ll find that Martian Dreams is very good about guiding you to solid objectives. For example, the first thing you want to do is to look for the landing site of the previous expedition. One of the characters at your starting location will give you the coordinates, but it’s basically due east of you and you’re unlikely to miss it. There’s someone there who will then guide you along to the next objective (or three). It’s not exactly linear, but you should always have a lead on somewhere to go or something to do. The key is that pretty much all that stuff is given to you through the NPC dialogue. So any game clubbers who absolutely have no patience for reading text: this may not be your game.

I would very much LIKE to get into this one. U6 was one of my favorite games ever, and I loved The Savage Empire, but never actually played this one. I’ve already got it in my GoG bookshelf, so I’ll try and give it a go while you guys are playing. :-)

If you liked Savage Empire, I feel pretty confident you’ll like this.

So far all I’ve done in my game is exited the capsule packed full of cups and plates and guns and am heading out to find the old expedition.

Do I need half of these random tools and place settings that I looted from the ship?

Ugh, the red game. I’ve tried several times to get into this one, but the landscape is so empty, the main window so tiny (Ultima VI was the same way, but a bit more colorful and varied), and the combat so awful that I never wasted more than a few hours on it. To me, Ultima V was the pinnacle of all Ultimas (sorry, U7 lovers, but the combat in that game was a joke too), and this feels more like fan fiction.

But you folks have fun with it. Maybe in 2 weeks somebody will pick a game that’s actually a classic. (System Shock, System Shock, System Shock.)


Got my GOG copy downloaded and installed, but haven’t run it yet. But I’m already liking this selection from the manuals, which I skimmed through and was happy to see lots of interesting historical figures. The Martian ecology stuff looked interesting too. We’ll have to see how much of the old-school gameplay I can stand, but the documentation was certainly cool!

Hmm. System… shock? Never heard of it. Is it like Bioshock?

Just kidding! Unfortunately for all of us, I don’t think there’s a digital legal source for the first SS.

The “red game” is a fair criticism, but if you stick with the story long enough, you’ll see some pretty nifty other environments.

I think we might have an interesting discussion about the role of combat in the game and if it adds or detracts from the overall experience.

The landing site was indeed pretty easy to find (see my remark about having to constantly use the sextant, though) and it was pretty clear that you should head there. The next clue I though I got was to head to Olympus, however, and I can’t find the way. I wonder who came up with the retarded idea to seperate Mars into areas by means of having gigantic walls…
Anyway, I ran into several places where I could not continue because things had “no power”. What’s the deal with that? Do you have to head someplace and power up a fusion reactor?

Also, is there a reliable way to tell everyone to flee? Because I keep running into those stupid multiplying thingies which obliterate everyone. Ultima was FAR better at giving you “safe routes” and areas where dangerous monsters lurked. Here, everything is fair game DESPITE the planet being seperated by a web of chinese walls.


Mysteries of the Red Planet, page 21: things are powered by large steam engines, located underground? Nothing on Mars is powered right now, but should start working once you start up an engine or two.
(It seems I like reading manuals instead of playing. I haven’t left the capsule yet!)