Sunday, January 15, 2017

Fate: Quick Update, Long Session

Winwood is unreasonably excited over nothing.
    
This feels like the 20th time I've said this, but in another 12 hours of Fate explorations, all I've manage to accomplish is an improvement of my maps. Specifically, I finished mapping the ocean and all the islands, and I identified the boundaries of the inner "Forbidden Zone" in the northwest quadrant. Having found no more clues as to the final three Moonwand pieces during this process, I've capitulated and looked at the hints that Zardas provided. They're cryptic enough that I still have to do most of the work. That's a good thing.
     
Most of my current map, with the water portion complete. I softened the color of the mountains, too.
    
The process of using overhead maps to identify islands, sailing there, getting off the boat, mapping them, and getting back on the boat got so boring that I don't know why I put up with it. Perhaps the most annoying part of this process involved searching for treasure. The searching process involves stopping on each square, selecting a character, and choosing "Action" and then "Dig." If nothing comes up, you have to repeat it with "Action" and "Search," since some treasures are buried and others are just hidden (although, often, "hidden in the dirt," which makes me wonder what the game thinks "digging" is). With the attendant pauses, it's just long enough to be irksome. You don't want to do it on every square. Fortunately, the game puts treasures in obvious places sometimes, like the only square with a tree, or at the end of a passage leading into a mountain range.

For the others, you just have to search random squares. The accumulation of my experience leads me to the hypothesis that every island has one and only one hidden or buried treasure. When I took the time to search every square, I always found one, but I never found more than one.

Maybe a third of them were useful. I found a number of potions and wands that provide one-time upgrades to statistics, or an extra spell slot. It was rarer that I found weapons or armor better than what I already had. Some of the finds were a bit mystifying, frankly. Someone went out of his way to bury the "Xantashoes" below on an island in the middle of nowhere. They're no better than footwear you find in random combats, and certainly not better than what the characters are already wearing by this point in the game. I spent a lot of time immediately dropping things right after finding them.
     
     
The remainder of the 12 hours was spent feeling out the boundaries of the inner Forbidden Zone. I was hoping that the zone was in the middle of the northwest quadrant, which would have allowed me to finish my perimeter map. But alas, it actually creates a square jutting out of the final mountain pass.
     
The Forbidden Zone, jutting out at a 90-degree angle, prevents me from tying these last bits of mountain together.
      
The boundary is a bit insidious. There's no in-game warning that you've crossed it. Once you cross it, all the party members die with the next step that they take, even if you turn around and try to head back out. At one point, I accidentally saved the game right after I crossed it and had no choice but to reload a save from a couple hours earlier.
    
Crossing the boundary causes your party members to instantly die.
    
While I was marching around the area, I tried to use the city of Mernoc as a point of rest. Boy, was that a mistake. Fate is extremely bi-polar when it comes to combat difficulty. Out in the wilderness, I barely have to pay attention to combat, even when I'm attacked by dozens of things called "lich demons." I just spam my greater melee weapon attacks and they all eventually die. I haven't had a character die from an outdoor combat--or even get poisoned or diseased--since at least 80 hours ago.

Inside Mernoc, on the other hand, I found combat demoralizingly hard. The choked and narrow streets were crowded with creatures that I simply couldn't kill. Bane giants. Some insect-like things called "ingols," particularly the tougher "bog ingols." Like the dracs I fought in the dungeon of Valvice, they never seem to die from hit point loss, no matter how many rounds go by. You have to get them with a critical hit or something. I've taken to calling these creatures NUKEs, or "nigh-unkillable enemies," and a big part of my upcoming posting on spells is testing which ones do anything to NUKEs. In the case of the ingols, they seemed to resist almost every spell. I resorted to fleeing and "praying" away most of my fights (a strategy that works about 2/3 of the time now), but in the congested city, it was only one step before I encountered another one. For some reason, "Invisibility" didn't work to get me past them (and "Time Stop," I noted, didn't work in combat).
    
I thought I was doing well, but parties like this were undefeatable.
    
I eventually did find an inn, which operated like a regular inn. It amuses me that some of these cities manage to keep regular inns, taverns, and shops operating while thousands of immortal beasts maraud just outside the door. I eventually gave up and fled the city after mapping only a small part of it. I never found an open tavern. I had to cast "Rejuvenate" six times to deal with the hunger and thirst.

As I explored, I became curious about the game's method of assigning names to NPCs. I rarely bother to ask their names unless I'm looking for a specific NPC--otherwise, I just cut the chit-chat and bribe them--but for some reason I started to ask and log the results. It's clear that the game draws from a pool of valid names and doesn't just make them up with some kind of random generator. A lot of them are very simple normal names (e.g., George, Maria, Leonard, Gordon); some are odd to me but maybe not to German players (e.g., Ulrich, Alberich, Theoderich). A few hearken to famous historical or literary figures (e.g., Magellan, Excalibur, Melmoth). A final set won't come up with any listings if you Google them (except this page), but they seem hand-crafted (e.g., Otrewoody, Ozzakon).
    
Marian Barbarian. Isn't that a song?
     
I had logged about 40 names before I saw a repeat, but even then, repeats were rare until I passed 100. My best guess is there are around 300-400 names in the pool. The game divides them by sex but not by class; "George" came up as a fighter, conjurer, and wander priest for instance. 

I was also curious when the game assigns the name. I took save states just before asking the NPC's name and always got the same result, so it isn't randomized at the point of asking. (Before anyone offers that the game might use a pre-generated set of random seeds, it doesn't seem to do this for any other aspect of gameplay, so I doubt it does it for names.) I also tried asking one NPC his name, then reloading the save state, dismissing him, and asking the next NPC, and I didn't get the same name. This means that the game isn't pulling from a pre-ordered list. My best guess, then, is that the game generates the NPC's name when it adds him to the map in the first place. Since most sentient "monsters" can occasionally be engaged in dialogue, it must do this for every NPC or monster on the map, the majority of which you'll never meet. That's almost eerie.

Miscellaneous notes on Fate:

  • I keep forgetting where I've left my ships, so I keep going back to Valvice to buy new ones. I think I've bought five at this point. I hope all that money doesn't become important later. 
  • I haven't talked a lot about the interface since the first posting, but it remains the worst part of the game You either have to click accurately (and be careful not to accidentally double-click) on very small words, or you have to use the number keys to select the menu options in order, but they're un-numbered on the screen. You can memorize a few common combinations, but I otherwise spent a lot of time counting.
  • I've amassed a collection of around 50 Holy Scrolls. These artifacts completely destroy the enemy party without having to fight. Unless the game nerfs them in the final dungeons (the way it does witht he "Time Stop" and "Invisibility" spells in Mernoc), I might find I have an easy time.
  • At one point on an island, I found a hidden treasure and the game told me that it was a "glowing sphere." It didn't appear in my inventory, and I have no idea what it was or did.
  • I find a lot of potions of sobriety, which would be nice to have in real life. The funny thing about them is that drunkenness is a condition that you bring on yourself, by imbibing too much in the taverns. Since there are alternatives to liquor (every tavern has milk, juice, water, and soda), no advantages to being drunk, and significant disadvantages (e.g., characters refuse to act in combat), the whole drunkenness/sobriety mechanic, including the potions, is just silly.
  • I'm having occasional success with "Dupe" in combat. It basically works like an instantly-fatal backstab, and it takes out NUKEs when successful (maybe 1/5 of the time). Still not much luck with "Grope," though.
    
Aside from needing to find the other Moonwand pieces, I've also been neglecting character development. Winwood has something like 32 improvement slots. I need to sit down with my list of guilds and map out a strategy. I'm desperately hoping this will alleviate some of the issues I had in Mernoc. The visit to the city unnerved me a bit, frankly; I thought my party was getting absurdly over-leveled from all my random wanderigs. It turns out I can't even make it down a random city street.

Coming up: I guess I owe it to Arnaud to try to make something of Fer & Flamme before wrapping it up.

Time so far: 213 hours


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Fate: Pieces Falling into Place


My fantasy is someone else's idea of hell.
      
At the end of the last post, I had one of the seven pieces of the Moonwand: the Crimcross. Now I have four.

The Dreamstone was the easiest. Thanks to a hint from Zardas, I knew that I just needed to return to Laronnes and keep trying to "charm" Rinoges until it worked. It actually worked on my first try. I guess I just got unlucky last time.
    
You're under my spell. I don't have to promise anything.
    
The Dreamstone turned out to be the key to finding the Marbeye, which I was on the cusp of retrieving last time. I had heard that it was part of Captain Bloodhawk's treasure and that Bloodhawk's ghost was wandering around Fainvil, probably staying in the fancy room at the inn. After I had the Dreamstone, I stayed in the finest suite at the inn again. Almost immediately afterward, Jeanie--who was in possession of the stone--said that she had a dream about a pirate digging in the sand and then drawing a treasure map.
     
Jeanie recounts her dream.
     
The map had been imprinted on the Dreamstone, so "using" the stone caused it to reveal itself.
    
    
I returned to the high seas and kept using my jewels and gemstaff to view the surrounding area. Eventually, I found a cluster of likely islands.
     
Northeast quadrant.
      
But this turned out to be the wrong place. After exploring and mapping all of them, I set sail again and within a couple hours found the right set of islands:
   
That makes more sense. The other islands were about one square each.
   
Digging in the area indicated by an "X" on the map produced the artifact!
    
Winwood isn't the brightest bulb.
    
I was lost for a bit after this. I only had any intelligence on one other piece--the Spiralgem held by the fairies of Fawn Island--and I didn't know where Fawn Island was. I spent a while touring the cities, but I didn't find any new hints in any of them. You can tell when you need to stick around an area because your characters ask for something specific like, "Have you heard anything about pieces of the Dreamwand?" When they start saying generic things--"Do you know anything about mystical objects?"--you know you've exhausted the hint chain in that location. Unfortunately, that happened everywhere I went: Larvin, Laronnes, Fainvill, Valvice, Perdida, Katloch, Pirate Rock, and of course Cassida, where everyone is just unhelpful by default.

Back to the waves, then. I let the overhead maps guide me to large islands, and after a few hours, I found Fawn Island. A path led to a wooded glen, where the queen admitted that she had the Spiralgem. But she wanted me to do her a favor first: retrieve a fairy named Myriam, who had been abducted when a "wild crowd of pirates" attacked the island a few months before.
    
Given what these fairies looked like in the original version of the game, I'm surprised the pirates ever leave the island.
      
I don't know why it didn't occur to me to go to Pirate Rock immediately. Instead, I got the idea that the pirates must be on the large island south of Fawn Island, and I spent a long time mapping it only to emerge empty-handed. That island mystifies me a bit. It's the second-largest of the islands in the game world, and it has a broken road running all around it, but ultimately leading to nothing. I searched a number of likely-looking squares but found no treasure.

Eventually, it occurred to me that the pirates might be in, duh,  the city of pirates. The NPCs in Pirate Rock had nothing to offer, but I started to get hints when I visited the taverns--specifically, that the fairy was imprisoned in one of them.
     
     
It turned out to be the Black Rock Tavern, accessible only by a teleporter. To free Myriam, I had to pay a 400,000 gold piece ransom--the game didn't even give me the option to fight. I also had to kick someone out of the party (temporarily, by shuffling him to a new party) to free up the space. It turns out that two parties can't board the same boat--in fact, you can't even see the boat if another party is aboard--so I left Toronar on Pirate Rock while I returned Myriam to Fawn Island.
    
If my party looks so strong, why did I have to pay 400,000 gold pieces?
      
There was no option to keep Myriam, but I wouldn't have even if there were. She was weak and only Level 14 (most of my characters are above Level 40). The fairy queen was so happy that she not only gave me the Spiralgem, but three improvement slots and three new spells for each mage character.
   
I think I'd be a bit more demanding than Winwood.
  
I have no idea what to do for the last three pieces except to explore the city of Mernoc, in the Forbidden Zone, which promises to be pretty hard. If there's something I've missed, I'll be happy to accept light hints (i.e., the general area that I should go to search for clues). 

Miscellaneous notes:

  • It would be nice if new spellbooks for characters appeared at the bottom of the list instead of the top. I get used to patterns--for instance, to cast "Locate," I need to select Jeanie and type 3-3-3. Then she gets a new spellbook and I have to memorize a new sequence (3-4-3) to cast the spell quickly.
  • This random message appeared when I was walking around some city--Fainvil, I think. I have no idea what it means, but I guess I won't be putting anything in the banks.
     
    
  • At some point, I found another "Vixhammer," which does damage to every opponent, in all groups, with every attack. That means three of my characters now have such weapons. In contrast, I've been unable to find any decent weapon for Elgarette,  my priestess. She's the only character who still has a blue bar for weapons, indicating "adequate" rather than "excellent."
  • No matter where you are on the map, wolves come out at night. They were almost impossible for my pre-Level 20 characters, but now they're no trouble at all. The darkness actually encourages me to sleep for the night ("Light" spells just cast everything in a reddish tint) more than the wolves.
     
     
  • I lost a bunch of progress at one point because I kept my characters out exploring too long and they started to starve. Juliet abruptly announced she was leaving and took off, taking some of the Moonwand pieces with her. I had to reload a save from hours earlier (I had gotten cocky). My characters have been pretty hungry before, but that's the first time that happened.
  • Drunk party members are useless in combat. If everyone is drunk, the game becomes a real challenge.
    
     
  • New maps below for readers who enjoy seeing those squares get filled in.
    
West.

East.
     
The Moonwand quest is done the way a multi-part quest should be done: with a lot of variety in the effort and time necessary to find each piece. Ultima VI did the same thing with its pieces of the map. A game gets boring quickly if every subquest takes exactly the same amount of time and toil, just like a paragraph gets boring if each sentence is exactly the same number of words. You want some quests that can be handled in a single location (e.g., the Dreamstone) and other compound quests that require several stages (e.g., the Spiralgem), and you want the length and effort to be a bit unpredictable. Of course, the Moonwand is just one quest in an enormous game, so the pleasantness of this variety is somewhat blunted by the breadth of the rest of it.

As usual, it took a long time (15 hours) to produce a fairly small amount of material. But for the next post--if I can figure out a way to sensibly make it start with "Q"--we're going to have a very long analysis of the spell system.

Time so far: 201 hours


Sunday, January 8, 2017

Fer & Flamme: Enigme & Ennui

The best of mostly-bad illustrations in the game.
   
I spent most of my second Fer & Flamme session mapping the city of Dord, the city closest to where the characters start. The city is quite large, comprising almost 100 separate "scenes," both indoor and outdoor. I found it maddeningly hard to map. Just once, it would be nice to play an adventure-style game in which the developers didn't attempt to "trick" the player with transitions that go east from one scene but come into the south of the next one, one-way transitions, and the like.
   
My aborted attempt at mapping in Excel.
   
Fer & Flamme supposedly helps you as you explore by showing arrows at the bottom of the screen indicating which directions you can go. Except: 1) south is never shown, even when it's a valid option; and 2) the accuracy of other shown directions is inconsistent. In the "tavernier" shot below, for instance, the arrows indicating I can go west but not east. In fact, the reverse is true.
    
Maybe that's a consequence of drinking too much.
    
Some of the screens have doors. If you try to enter them, you may get a message that they're closed (this seems to depend on the time of day). If so, you're asked which character wants to open the door. Never once has any selection worked for me. Maybe my strength isn't high enough. To fully explore the city, I jut had to wait around a lot until the doors opened on their own. (Time passes whether you do anything or not, at a rate of about one game minute per one real second.)
   
Trying to get into the palace.
   
From practice and commenters, I learned the importance of searching every screen. About half a dozen of them held items of varying importance. You don't always find them the first time you search, but I soon learned that if there's no item to be found, "il n'y a rien" only appears on the screen once, no matter how many times you select the "search" option. If there is something to be found, on the other hand, the phrase stacks multiple times on top of itself until you actually find the item.
   
I knew I'd get something eventually.
   
Stores included a butcher, a tavern, a clothing store, a weapon store, and stands selling fish, bread, fruits and vegetables. My characters are hungry and thirsty, but because of my weapon and armor purchases during character creation, plus the purchase of a few meager weapons here, I don't have enough gold to buy more than a couple pieces of fruit. Stealing didn't work; I got caught every time.

If you get caught stealing, incidentally, you get sentenced to 1 hour in prison and literally just have to sit there and watch the clock tick by. That's not a bad approach. It's a real consequence, and back in the day it probably would have been more of a pain in the neck to restart and reload than to just serve your sentence.
    
Lumiere, you had one job.
    
I can't figure out how to eat or drink anyway. Theoretically, you do this from the "health" menu. You select manger or boire and then pick the character. But even characters with food and water in their inventories don't do anything when I select their options.
    
Roussir has 9 waters in his inventory, but he can't drink.
    
The game's approach to equipment is also a little messed up. You purchase all kinds of weapons and armor during character creation that don't appear once the game starts. I guess those initial purchases just modify attack and defense statistics. If you want to have actual weapons in the game, you have to buy them again. (I haven't found armor yet.) Not understanding this, I spent most of my gold during character creation. The best approach might be to start over and ensure that my characters start the game with at least a little gold.

NPCs are similarly confounding. The various peasants, monks, guards, and other characters you see in my screenshots aren't permanent fixtures on those screens (although animals, for some reason, are). They come and go. I like this; it makes the city feel more like a living place and it anticipates more complex movements of NPCs in later games. But there's no way to productively interact with them. Occasionally, one will wander up and offer a "bonjour," but all I ever seem to be able to do is say "bonjour" back or kill the conversation by insulting the NPC or telling him that we're thieves or something. They never offer any dialogue that  means anything. I don't know if this is something I'm doing wrong or part of the game that was never implemented.
    
Yes, that's very kind of you. Anything on my quest?
   
Overall, the city isn't badly done. The artwork is only adequate, but the game does a better job than most at making the city seem like a realistic, diverse place. Neighborhoods include (my translations) the Cat Quarter, the Cut-Throat Quarter, the Old Quarter, and the Dark Quarter, with the artwork varied appropriately. Multiple roads converge on two key locations: the church and the "gilded palace." 

These locations held the only quest-based items or messages I found in the city, and even they are a bit obscure. Translation was complicated by the fact that the text doesn't show diacriticals or apostrophes and words break with no indication. What should have been n'├ęclaircit was rendered as n eclair cit on the screen. Anyway, the first message, found in the church, read: "The light of God only illuminates the path of the righteous... the prophet Calaan only blinds the disciples of darkness."
   
It's always weird to see Christian imagery in fantasy games.
   
In the same location, I found something called the Medallion of Calaan. Calaan isn't mentioned in the backstory.

I need some help on the second message. It was found on a table in the castle. My best translation is: "As Tanaris came one day to destroy it, the fifth ruby of God Tanaris will return to oppose when Thandar lives." I'm not sure if dieu Tanaris means that Tanaris is himself a god or if the enter phrase la quinte des rubis du dieu is an object that somehow fits into the later sentence.
    
The second message. Given the name in the last line, clearly the developers were capable of lower-case letters; why they didn't use them in the main message is an annoying mystery.
     
Neither Thandar nor Tanaris appears in the backstory, but there is a spell called "Tanaris" that produces a magical ram to force doors. The attribution of the quote, "Salim Akar" does appear in the manual as the "master storyteller to the court." Anyway, in the same location as this quote, I found the "rubies of Tanaris."

Scattered throughout other screens in the town, I found a torch, 9 water rations, a sack, and a "nugget," which I'm guessing is some kind of precious metal.

And that's about all I can tell you. Every time I leave the city, within a few screens I get attacked by a group of skeletons or werewolves or something, and not only am I incapable of defeating them, I can't even strike a single blow. I note that the game insists that my characters all have 1 or 0 strength, however, which either has something to do with my hunger or thirst or something got screwed up after character creation.
     
I would be disappointed if a French game didn't feature loup-garou among its bestiary.
    
Finally, I'll note that the game crashes every opportunity that it gets. It freezes every time I try to enter combat (versus a creature attacking me), often refuses to transition between disks, and comes up with a "not found" error sometimes while I'm exploring outdoors. This might reflect emulator issues rather than game issues, but either way it makes for a miserable experience.
    
    
I haven't experienced enough of the game to GIMLET it yet, but unless someone comes along and instruct me how to successfully eat and drink.or solve the combat issue, I'm afraid we're done with this one. I'll give it a few days and if no one can help me by the time of the next post, I'll wrap it up as best I can.


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Fate: One Piece Found, and Close on Another One

'Cause ghosts are entirely unbelievable in a fantasy world of monsters and magic.
  
Let's recap where we are. My character, Winwood, has been sucked into the Fate universe from the real world. This was done by the evil mage Thardan, through methods unknown and for reasons unknown. So far, Winwood has been able to avoid Thardan and has, by repairing the Cavetrain, managed to escape Thardan's plan to keep him boxed in the small starting zone.

My explorations of the wider world (400 x 640 squares, with plenty of cities and dungeon levels of around 60 x 60 squares) has revealed that to reach Thardan, I'll have to enter his Forbidden Zone. To survive its horrors, I will need a mage from Cassida, equipped with the Moonwand, as part of my party. To free Bergerac, the Cassidan mage, from his stone form, I need to explore the multi-level dungeon Agyssium (in the city of Katloch) and retrieve Bergerac's heart. Coincidentally, the same Moonwand is needed to eenter Agyssium.

The Moonwand has been split into seven pieces, each with its own name, and my most recent stages of gameplay have been focused on collecting intelligence on the seven pieces and finding them. As this session began, I had learned a bit about the Dreamstone, the Crimcross, the Marbeye, and the Spiralgem.

You may recall that after my last post, I had resolved to stop wasting so much time mapping and get down to business. But at the time I made that resolution, I was in the midst of mapping a ring of mountains, and I decided I needed to finish that up. It turned out to be a very large area.
    
And there went another 4 hours.
    
When I was done with that, I made my way to the closest city, Perdida, determined to pump its inhabitants for every bit of information they had. You may recall from earlier postings that each successive hint is in the hands of a specific character class, and you have to get them in a fairly precise order. Of course, you don't know what class holds the next clue, so you have to keep trying different classes until you get lucky. In my case, it was a witch who knew that the Perdidans had intelligence on the Crimcross in the first place. Once in Perdida, I had to find a ranger to learn that the Crimcross is buried in the Withering Woods, and then a druid to learn that "an old man on the shores of the Moonlake" knew more about it.
    
It would be nice to meet one NPC who doesn't talk in all exclamation points.
    
So far, so good. From my previous mapping, I knew where the Withering Woods were--I had found the sign. I also guessed that the Moonlake was the large crescent-shaped lake near Perdida, which I had already fully mapped. I returned to it and hunted for an old man. I soon found a druid, but once I had his hint--make an offering to the Oracle at Demon Tower--I realized that I'd already met him when mapping the Moonlake in the first place.

I had no idea where Demon Tower was, so I decided to visit some of the other cities to learn about the other pieces. That first entailed getting my ship, which I had parked far to the east of Perdida. I set out east, mapping a new route to my ship's berth, when I serendipitously ran into Demon Tower.
    
Moonlake to the west, the Withering Woods in the middle, and Demon Tower to the east.
     
Demon Tower was a small mountain maze ending at a well in the center. Dead-end passages on the outside of the maze led to two messages. The first I found said, "Dig around the lonely rock at Zabros Point." At this point, I didn't even know I was at Demon Tower, but it was an easy quest--I had mapped Zabros Point a long time ago, and it was just a few clicks to the south. I visited, found a single rock square, dug, and found a gold coin.

Returning to the Tower, I kept mapping the perimeter and found a second message that said, "Drop the goldcoin into the Oracle's well." This was my first confirmation that I was, in fact, at Demon Tower.
    
Then this made it a bit more explicit.
    
Eventually, I reached the well itself, dropped the goldcoin, and received directions to the Crimcross: find the southern edge of the Moonlake, then walk 24 steps east and 11 steps south.
    
     
The southern edge of the Moonlake wasn't hard to identify; there's a single southermost square. But there were other problems with the directions, including the fact that forests block you from actually walking 24 steps east and 11 steps south. Even if that wasn't a problem, that precise number of steps places you in the middle of a forest square. If you go 12 steps south, on the other hand, you reach the dead-end of a twisty forest path, and I figured that's where I needed to go.

A previous clue had said that the Crimcross would only appear at midnight, so I did a little mapping until the appointed time, dug, and sure enough found the first piece of the Moonwand.
    
Yay!
    
I returned to the task of marching to the far eastern end of the world to retrieve my ship. On the way, I mapped the rest of a road and was surprised to find it end at a new city: Mernoc. Somehow, I had the idea that I'd already discovered all the cities. The inhabitants were all hostile and very difficult (capable of one-hit kills of my characters), so I left it for later, hoping that I don't need to find any hints about the Moonwand there. If I do, I'll do it last.

Back in my ship, I mapped a couple of small islands on my way to Pirate Rock, where I hoped to find more information about Captain Bloodhawk and the Marbeye. It wasn't long before I received hints that his spirit is said to haunt Fainvil and that when in Fainvil, Bloodhawk only slept in "the best and finest beds."
    
As does my party, since I have nothing else to spend money on.
    
I figured this would be an easy one. Fainvil has only one inn, so I visited and rented out the finest room. I thought I'd have an encounter with his ghost or something. Alas, nothing happened. I wandered around and asked for hints from NPCs and taverns but got nothing. I feel like I'm close on this one.

If I can't solve it soon, I still have a few leads. Back in Laronnes, the mage Rinoges has the Dreamstone and I guess I just need to keep trying to enchant him until I succeed. I know some fairies on Spawn Island have the Spiralgem. I don't know where Spawn Island is, but that gives me an excuse to do more mapping. As for the rest of the pieces, I still haven't asked for hints in Larvin, Valvice, or Katloch (I assume Cassida is a waste of time).

I am quite determined to finish this game before April comes around and I've been playing it for a full year.

Time so far: 186 hours

****

Let's talk about a few other games. Fer & Flamme is driving me crazy. All the weapon-buying that I did when I started the game doesn't seem to have carried over to the game itelf, so I had to buy new weapons (with a greatly reduced pool of money), but I still can't even inflict damage in combat, let alone win it. NPCs keep popping up and saying "bonjour!" but never offer anything substantive--they must have a purpose, right? The game crashes at the drop of a hat and does this fun thing where it suddenly won't recognize my save disk; I don't know whether to blame the game or the emulator. And of course there's the horrible interface. I don't want to continue with it, but I don't have enough material assembled on it to give it a fair GIMLET, and I'm not leaving another game hanging on the list with no rating.

I'd appreciate hearing from anyone who's played The Dark Wars for the Atari ST. I can't find documentation on the game, and it's a bit confusing. I'm not even sure it meets my definitions as an RPG; it looks like one, but the character sheet offers no evidence of experience or level. It seems to come with a pre-created main character named "Adam," and I don't know if there's some way to change that. 

I feel like if I can can just get past a few difficult games, the rest of the upcoming list looks easier and fun.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Game 239: Silmar: Volume I - The Dungeons of Silmar (1991)

 
    
Silmar: Volume I - The Dungeons of Silmar
United States
Independently developed and distributed as shareware
Released in 1990 or 1991 for DOS
Date Started: 27 December 2016
Date Ended: 28 December 2016
Total Hours: 5
Difficulty: Easy (2/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later)
  
Silmar is a decent "roguelite"--a game clearly inspired by Rogue but which removes too many elements to make it a "roguelike." It features the type of quest you typically find in roguelikes, plus a randomly-generated dungeon, but it lacks permadeath and greatly simplifies the interface and inventory systems. Too many games offer too-similar an experience to recommend it specifically, but it does a decent enough job for shareware, and it kept me amused for a few hours.

The base module--The Dungeons of Silmar--features 30 randomly-generated levels to explore. As in most roguelikes, the character finds treasures, fights monsters, gains experience, and presses ever downward towards an elusive goal at the bottom level. But if you die along the way, the game isn't over: you simply reload from the moment that you entered the most recent dungeon level. And since dungeon levels don't last very long, you don't really lose that much progress when you die.
    
Exploring the Dungeons of Silmar. My barbarian character is Level 6 and on dungeon Level 12. He's just opened a door to find a couple of monsters and a fountain waiting for him. A treasure chest sits in a room to the right. In the hallway to my southeast, a trap is barely visible (little black symbol in the middle of the tile).
    
Silmar does show some originality in its character creation system. Players choose from a staggering 25 character classes, including such oddities as werewolf, biodroid, baseball player, mortician, sub-vampire, gymnast, and percussionist. The differences among them are starker than in Nethack and other typical roguelikes. Some of them, like werewolves and sub-vampires, come with inherent weapons and armor that last them throughout the game; they can't pick up or wield normal weapons. Some have abilities that negate some of the game's logistical difficulties, such as the biodroid's ability to see without torches or the ability of several classes to go without food. Still others have special abilities, like the crusader's "Damn" ability, which destroys undead, or the pixie's ability to teleport enemies away. And a number of them come with weaknesses to balance their strengths. Some of the monstrous classes might be denied entry to the shop, for instance, and paladins tithe any gold they have remaining when they leave a store.
    
The strengths of the "percussionist" class.
    
On the negative side, you don't even get to name your character. After selection, the character receives 13 points in each of five attributes--strength, intelligence, judgement, agility, and endurance--and the player can redistribute them as he sees fit. After that, it's off to the first dungeon level. Every character starts with two "teleport beads" in their inventory and nothing else.
    
Distributing attributes during character creation.
    
The game's framing story places it in the land of Gormarundon, where an evil mage named Syrilboltus once waged war against the peaceful dwarves of the town of Silmarii (an obvious derivation from Tolkien). When he was on the verge of defeat at the hands of the dwarven armies, just before he disappeared, he somehow cast a spell that created the 30-level dungeon and populated it with evil monsters--a curse to plague the town until some adventurer could reach the bottom level.
    
The backstory is told in a few screens.
    
Each level is 30 x 30 tiles, randomly generated as the player goes down the ladders (once you go down, you cannot return to earlier levels). If the character dies and restarts from the last save, the level is re-generated. Secret doors are prevalent, and you spend an awful lot of time searching for them so you can find all the level's treasures and encounters, plus the ladders down.
     
This closed-off area is actually reachable. Any block that has an empty space on the opposite side from where the character stands will disappear when you push on it. I just need to slowly chisel away enough blocks.
     
The game uses an extremely simplified list of commands: get, drop, fire, view character information, use a special power, toggle sound, and quit. The inventory is also simplified from the typical roguelike. There's no concern about identifying items. You have an active weapon and one suit of armor--no helms, boots, belts, amulets, rings, and so forth. There are treasures like crowns and medallions that are simply for selling, plus a handful of items that offer one-use protection from certain effects. For instance, a "blood talisman" will negate poison and a "nerve amulet" protects against paralysis. The only ambiguity is in scrolls and potions. Some have positive effects (e.g., temporary invulnerability, revealing the map of the level) and some have negative effects (e.g., poison, forgetting the part of the level you've already explored) but there's no way to identify this ahead of time; you just use them and hope for the best.
    
A scroll clearly inspired by Nethack's Scroll of Genocide.
   
Each level is sprinkled liberally with treasures and monsters, and like most roguelikes, you can fight monsters by shooting them at a distance with ranged weapons or bashing them in melee range. Even at high levels, the typical combat only lasts a couple of rounds. Monsters are not named within the game, but you can figure out by their icon what they are, and you soon learn which ones have special attacks that you want to avoid. As you kill them, you gain experience and level up (characters start at Level 3, for some reason), which confers extra "injury points" (the specific number dependent on class) and for some classes extra attacks.
    
My barbarian attacks a vampire on the diagonal.
    
Key to the game is the ability to warp to a store using "teleportation beads." Unlike some roguelikes in which such devices take you to the top of the dungeon, in Silmar they simply call up a store menu, leaving your position in the dungeon unchanged. I learned the hard way that after you use a bead, the first thing you want to do is buy another bead; otherwise, you might get stuck with no ability to return to the store unless you happen to find a bead, and they're very rare. Some classes have a chance of getting rejected when they try to enter the store, but their bead disappears anyway, so they need to keep several on hand as backups.

The store sells a variety of items, including torches and food. Unless the character is of a class that doesn't need these items, you have to buy them frequently throughout the game, but they're very cheap and it's more of an annoyance than a true challenge. Mostly, you use the store to sell excess merchandise and then to convert your gold to experience points (at a rate of 1 experience point for 10 gold pieces).
    
Visiting the store early in the game.
     
Characters can only carry 10 x their strength in gold pieces, so you have to warp to the store frequently--sometimes after every individual chest--to make sure you don't waste the excess. The store sells a Bag of Carrying that allows you to carry up to 30,000 gold, but it costs 15,000 gold. Since you can't carry that much, one of the logistical challenges of the game is to assemble the right collection of high-value sale items, sell them all at once at the store, and then buy the bag.

The game is very hard until you find a weapon (if the character doesn't come with claws or whatnot), then easy for a few levels, and then quite hard in the second half as enemies start to develop special attacks. There are slimes that dissolve weapons and armor, invisible enemies, and monsters with the ability to poison, paralyze, drain levels, steal items or food, and teleport you away. Some only respond to "holy" weapons like holy water or a Mace of Purity. There's at least one monster--some blob-like creature--that seems to be completely invulnerable, and you simply have to run away from it and hope it doesn't trap you in a hallway.
    
Some kind of ooze destroys my armor.
    
The game also features a variety of special encounters in the same vein as the D&D or Wizard's Castle variants, where by sheer luck either a good thing or a bad thing happens. An altar will take your money and then either raise or lower an attribute. A fountain might do the same. A magic lamp will either release a genie who boosts your statistics or an efreeti who fights you to death. The only encounters that are always positive are trainers, who will boost attributes for 1,000 gold pieces, and statues, which will give you a random item if you have a gem.
    
An orc character gets a boost to his strength.
And a barbarian gets lucky in this encounter with a genie.
       
There are copious traps--a few too many, really, although what I like about the game's approach is that you can see them before you step on them, if you look carefully. An extra bit of vigilance on the player's part can avoid pits, spiked pits, poisoned spiked pits, and teleporters.

Spells are under-developed. Only a few of the classes have them, and even they only have one or two each. The druid can cast "lightning" to damage enemies and "recall" to return to the store (she needs no teleport beads). Paladins and crusaders have spells that heal and turn undead. Wizards have "fireball" and "teleport." None of these spells cast from a pool of spell points. Instead, when the player invokes them, the game rolls against the relevant attribute (usually intelligence or judgement) to determine success or failure. Thus, for those spells that aren't cast in combat, like healing or "recall," failure really has no consequence since you can just keep doing it until you get it right.
   
My character prepares to "damn" a skeleton.
   
In theory, I think the character classes are supposed to be balanced in their strengths and weaknesses. In practice, some of them have bonuses that make the game much, much easier. In particular, classes that automatically regenerate hit points (barbarian, troll, sub-vampire) or have a special healing power (paladin, crusader) have a much easier game than those who have to rely on potions to heal. (Unlike some roguelikes, the average character doesn't automatically regenerate by moving around.) The sub-vampire is almost laughably easy. He regenerates quickly, needs no torches or food, is immune to poison and paralysis, and doesn't have to worry about weapons and armor because he comes with his own.
    
And he takes 0 damage from lower-level enemies.
    
But both the lack of permadeath and the nature of the game's winning condition make it ultimately pretty easy for any class. To win, you simply have to reach the down ladder on the 30th level. Since the game regenerates the current level every time you die and restore, inevitably--no matter how incompetent the player--it will generate a level in which the down ladder is right in front of you. You don't even need to wait to die--you could just keep hitting "(Q)uit" and then reloading. A Level 3 character can reach the bottom, find the final ladder, and win the game without killing a single foe.
    
My werewolf, who has yet to gain a single level, gets lucky when he arrives on Level 6 and immediately finds a ladder to Level 7.
    
The only real difficulty, I suppose, is that you can no longer visit the store after the 23rd level. The game doesn't give you any warning about this, and if you hit Level 24 low on torches (and your character class isn't one that can see in the dark), you could put yourself in a situation where you can't see to continue. You could also starve to death if you're low on food when you pass this level. Beyond that, patience will always lead to victory.

There's no final battle or encounter before winning; you just find the ladder on Level 30 and go down once more. The game ends on an unsatisfying (and somewhat nonsensical) cliffhanger:
     
The dungeons disintegrate around you but you are protected by some kind of shimmering magical field. Before you, a spirit rises up from the earth and ruble, shouting vulgar things triumphantly in a powerful voice. It is Syrilboltus! Once high above you, you see his spirit taking on a human form once again. The mage then flies away, but to what aim?
     
The story promises to continue in the next two modules--An Everpresent Magic and The Forward Terminus--which advertise new items, special encounters, monsters, and settings. To get these additional adventures, the developer asked for $12. I haven't been able to find them online, and in any event, I think I've played enough of the game to understand it.
    
The "winning screen." I won with a barbarian.
    
Based on The Dungeons of Silmar, I award it:

  • 1 point for the game world, a simple framing story unreferenced in-game.
  • 3 points for character creation and development. The strengths and weaknesses of the different classes are clever and original; otherwise, there's not much here.
    
A full list of available classes.
    
  • 0 points for no NPC interaction.
  • 3 points for a standard selection of encounters and foes.
    
Gee, thanks for making the situation worse.
     
  • 3 points for magic and combat. Other roguelikes offer more tactical combat through more interesting inventories.
  • 3 points for a basic set of equipment.
  • 4 points for an economy that, since you can convert gold to experience, never stops being relevant.
  • 2 points for a main quest.
  • 4 points for decent tile graphics, a few sound effects, and a very easy-to-use keyboard interface. I like how each character class has its own icon.
  • 4 points for gameplay. It gets credit for not lasting too long and for offering a fair amount of replayability given the strengths and weaknesses of the characters. On the other hand, it's a bit too easy.
    
That gives us a final score of 27, very respectable for a roguelite shareware title. A little more of Nethack's complexity would have been welcome, and perhaps some reason to defeat monsters other than "they're in my way." I do rather like its approach to saving--automatically, once per level--which doesn't punish you as severely as the typical roguelike yet still offers some consequences for death.

Silmar is credited to Jeff Mather and David Niecikowski of Tucson, Arizona. Its copyright says 1990, but the files all have 1991 creation dates. Mather is also credited on an earlier shareware RPG called Ranadinn (1988) that I somehow missed on my first pass but will catch when I swing through the year again.
   
A side-scrolling combat game called Navjet was distributed on the same disk as Silmar.
    
Silmar was packaged with two other titles: Dunjax and Navjet, both side-scrolling action games, the former involving a gun-toting dungeon explorer and the latter involving fighter jets bombing missile bases. Beyond these games, I can't find evidence that Mather or Niecikowski worked on any other titles. They did update Silmar for Windows in the late 1990s with revised graphics and a fully-explorable town level, but apparently without the selection of character classes that make the original worth playing. Mather offers it for sale on his web site, which also features a browser version of Dunjax.
    
The Windows version, from the game's web site.
    
The game was a nice diversion from the sprawling gameworld of Fate and the translation issues and bugs in Fer & Flamme, but it also had the effect of arousing my roguelike appetite without bedding it back down. Maybe if I get started on the 3.1 series of Nethack now, I'll have a "won" posting ready for when the game comes up in 1993.

****

OrbQuest: The Search for the Seven Wards (1986) is off my list unless someone turns up with a copy.

And I'd appreciate hearing from anyone with experience with Heimdall (1991) or Obitus (1991) whether they're RPGs under my rules. I can't quite tell from the descriptions whether they have character development during the game. (Heimdall does seem to have attributes, but that's not quite the same thing.)