Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Shadow of Yserbius: Party of One

First-round death came back with a vengeance during this session.
     
I began this session by mapping The Mines, accessible from the north exit from the Dungeon Entrance. I had already fully explored the level and had found Cleowyn's Key and Cleowyn's Lockpick, but I wanted to annotate a few things for later follow-up. Some notes on the level:
    
  • There are five NPCs. They mostly tell you about King Cleowyn: He was the King of Thieves; he had a special lockpick; he put all his money in a treasury; his palace, which makes up the upper levels of the dungeon, is full of traps. 
  • I found my first secret door in the southwest corner. It was pretty easy to find because when you stand and face it, the game says, "You see a blank wall." It doesn't say that when you face a regular blank wall. I searched with my "Detect" skill and found the door. On the other side was another door with another message (like the one in the entry hall) that you have to be Level 20 to pass.
        
Guess it's not blank after all.
       
  • Along similar lines, some squares in a northern room say, "The room is bare." But searching these squares doesn't produce anything.
  • The middle squares of the level have a large pit. When I tried to walk forward into the pit, a "kindly spirit" saved me, warning me to "stay away from danger" until I'm stronger. I don't know if that means you can just fall down the pit at a higher level.
      
"Until you are smarter" would have been funnier.
        
An eastern exit from the Mines leads to the Vestibule. A southern exit from the Vestibule leads to the Hall of Doors, which goes back to the Dungeon Entrance. But the coordinates are all out of whack by the time you loop around. The game doesn't maintain positional accuracy between its areas. I thus split them all apart for the purposes of further mapping.
 
The Vestibule consists of five concentric squares and four small rooms in the center square. There are multiple doors from each outer square to each inner square. Each door you open causes some other doors to lock tight, so that the first door you open ultimately determines which of the rooms in the center square you're able to access. Furthermore, some of the doors can only be unlocked with Cleowyn's Key. There are some runic messages that clue you into all of this if you have the "Read Runes" skill or the Rune Prism.
      
I need a slightly higher skill.
       
I haven't quite figured out the puzzle. It generally seems to operate under the principle that whatever door you use from an outer ring, you have to use the opposite door on the next inner ring. So if I go east through the door in the first ring, I have to circle around and go west through the door on the second. The problem is that the third ring has no door on the south end (that you enter by going north). Instead, it has two that you enter by going west. Because of this, I can't figure out how to open the northern door (that I would have to enter by going south) in the inner group of rooms. In any event, one room that I can enter has stairs leading down to a lower level, but I haven't explored that yet.

A map helps explain it better. If I want to open Door 15 to get to the stairway to the Palace Corridor, I have to go in sequence: Door 4, Door 6, Door 12, Door 15. Similarly, opening Door 16 means going in order: 1-7-9-16. I can't figure out how to open Door 13 and I'm not sure how I ever opened Door 14.
             
A pick that I found somewhere opened the locked doors in the Soldier's Quarters. These open doors led me to another area of the Basement as well as a Level 3 Prison. I explored the new area of the basement for a while and found a stairway to the Great Corridor on Level 3. I got part of this level explored, but a one-way door kept me from backtracking to map all of it.
       
There were exits to the Mausoleum and the Rune Room, plus a door guarded by a knight. "I am pledged to guard King Cleowyn's Apartments for eternity," he said. "Of course, if you had the King's Pass, I could let you through. Seek the Pass where Ranger and Troll are blessed." While wandering the Great Corridor, I stepped into a square that said, "Blessed Human or Thief, you may continue the quest," so perhaps there's a similar area that blesses trolls and rangers.
        
Another NPC warned me not to attack him, as if there's even any mechanism for that.
        
I spent a little time in the Mausoleum. There were four NPCs in the entry chamber. One, a gremlin cleric, gave me a long speech suggesting there's a puzzle in the Mausoleum that's going to involve a crown, robe, and scepter, and once I start, I don't want to leave because I'll lose the items I've already dropped. A few moments later, I got killed by some undead--my first death in a long time--so I guess I'll save the Mausoleum for when I at least have those items.
        
Advice not tailored to a single-character party.
      
I finished exploring the Treasury, which is just a half-map. I plotted the only viable path to the center chamber, where I found a dozen tough battles with enemies like ghosts, zombies, and bugbears, but no real treasure to speak of. I found a portal connecting the treasury to the Hall of Doors. I tried the king hobgoblin battle in the basement again but still died in the first round. 
   
I had at least four maps open at this point. I decided to focus on the only Level 2 map I hadn't explored: the Palace Corridor, accessible via the stairs from the Vestibule. Returning to this one is going to be a huge pain when I die. It was an odd map. More than half of it was inaccessible; a halfling ranger NPC warned me that there were three major secret areas on the level, and none could be accessed from the level.
       
Note the full Palace Corridor map shows three large "unused" areas.
      
The accessible part consisted of one spacious corridor heading south to the palace entrance plus a longer corridor that--wrapping east, south, and west--bypassed the main doors. The main doors were locked but opened with the Key to Cleowyn's Palace, which I believe I got in the Mines. The wraparound corridor only required a lockpick to enter. Either way, all roads led to a double-door in the southwest corner of the level, which took me to Cleowyn's Palace.
      
I don't know what the business with the "trap" is about. If I try to open the door without the key, it doesn't go off or anything.
       
An NPC had warned me that the souls of the "tortured dead" haunted the palace, and sure enough, I almost immediately died in battle to a multi-pack of banshees. I reloaded twice, marched 15 minutes back to the location, and died twice more under the same circumstances. Combats in the game had been easy--trivial, even--up to this point, so I was surprised at the difficulty.
   
Almost everywhere else, I've been able to get through most combats with "Shield" and either physical attacks alone or physical attacks with "Poison Cloud," which works particularly well on the ghosts I found on the same level as the banshees. There are other strategies to try, but not when I die in the first round before I can do anything at all.
       
I probably need to experiment with more spells.
       
I went back to the northeast corner of the Palace Corridor, where I'd found a stairway to the Rune Room, also accessible from the Great Corridor. I started exploring the new level, but it wasn't long before I found a human barbarian NPC who warned me that if I didn't have the King's Ring, I wouldn't get very far on the level. Then I got petrified and killed by a cockatrice.
     
Adventuring sucks with no fellow party members to heal you.
      
A few other notes:
   
  • Enemies drop so many potions that my inventory is almost always full of them, despite healing and restoring mana at the end of almost every battle.
  • I found a suit of "Diamond Mail," but judging by the effects on statistics, it's worse than the generic Armor Suit I already had.
        
The Sword of the Crypt turned out not to be anything special, either.
       
  • Some enemies have dropped scrolls. They usually cast mass-damage spells on enemy stacks, useful for when you don't want to spend your own mana, I guess.
  • The game definitely doesn't follow Dungeons & Dragons' idea of a "bugbear."
        
I guess it's just a big toad.
    
  • When you pick the locks on doors or unlock them, you have to use them immediately. If you take even one other action, the door locks again.
    
I'm not quite at the point where I don't have any paths available without grinding, but I am at the point where all paths carry a decent chance of death, which at this point is quite debilitating because it takes so long to return from the entrance. I think maybe it's time to wrap up the game. The joy of mapping was temporary, and I haven't been enjoying much else about the game, particularly since character development has slowed to a crawl (I only gained one level since the last entry). It's clear that the game wasn't designed for a solo experience, and perhaps it's best to stop trying to force it.
   
Time so far: 13 hours



Saturday, February 24, 2024

BRIEF: The Mystical World of Paradigms! (1980)

 
You keep using that word . . .
        
The Mystical World of Paradigms!
United States
Independently developed
Released 1980 on the PLATO mainframe system at the University of Illinois
Rejected for: Insufficient character development, game may not be finished
      
This is another one that I learned about from El Explorador de RPG. It is deeply weird. When I auto-translated El Explorador's coverage and read the first few paragraphs, I thought the translator had gone wonky, as the terms it chose didn't seem to be quite right (e.g., "[the game] manages an entity whose race is changing as it evolves and must create creatures and give them life to form an army"). It turns out that the translator is fine and all the weirdness comes from the game's own instructions.
   
Nothing is perhaps more odd than the game's use of the word paradigm, which has been used various ways in different fields and historical contexts, but never quite the way the game uses it: "Your goal is to acquire enough skill (which will be shown as movement points) and to create enough armies to evolve into a PARADIGM and become IMMORTAL." Probably one of the authors saw the word and thought that it sounded cool. I went through the same fascination with odyssey when I was in sixth grade, somehow getting the idea that it had a linguistic connection to awesome. 2001: A Space Odyssey was about something awesome happening in space. I was disappointed when someone told me that it just meant "journey." 
   
This one introduction screen has nonstandard uses of paradigm, entity, mind, and movement.
       
The authors are given as Kevin Dunn, Tim McMahon, and Joe Stanton. There are two versions of the game on PLATO, an original from 1980 ("oparadigm") and an update from 2013 ("paradigm"). I can't get anywhere with the original. Every time I create a character, I'm just dropped on a screen that shows nothing and repeatedly says "you are not allowed past the energy field." This refers to the border around the world, and the instructions say that if you hit it, you'll be dumped into the River Styx. I don't know what the game insists on starting the character right up against it, but it happened with four characters in a row. None of the options at the bottom of the screen work. 
         
What happens every time I start the original game.
      
The remake drops me into a world of various landscapes, including grasslands, forests, rivers, mountains, and mudlands. You see the world from a side-view perspective that I've never seen in a PLATO game before, with the image showing the terrain in the direction you're facing, sort of a primitive version of the "landscaping" used in Lords of Midnight (1984). The movement system draws from the previous PLATO games Think and Swords and Sorcery (1978), which in turn draw from Mike Mayfield's Star Trek (1971). You specify a movement speed and keep moving at that speed in your chosen direction until you run into an obstacle.
   
Paradigms wants you to build an army of "deadly yits" and "demon riders" and evolve them through several stages of existence. Your primary resource is "movement points" (MPs), which despite their name is an all-purpose statistic representing character health, strength, skill, and currency. You gain movement points through positive encounters with NPCs (and perhaps other players?) and by overcoming monsters, although you can also lose MPs from combat if it goes poorly. The game apparently has an inventory, as one early encounter with "Phssthpok, an Alien" offered me a "Lazer Gun," but neither the manual nor the interface says anything about it. The only interface options are movement and speed (including an option to T)eleport to a random part of the map for 10 MPs), plus whatever the game gives you on the screen during an encounter.
          
This is the only main game screenshot I got before it crashed.
       
The encounters come at regular intervals whether you move or not, and between positive encounters and battles, my MPs hardly went anywhere. You need to find something called the Building of Evolution and spend 200 MPs to create a deadly yit or 400 MPs to create a demon rider. Even then, apparently all you've created is a dead body. You have to take them to the Building of Life and spend more MPs to bring them to life.
   
Meanwhile, your character is meant to evolve through several stages, from gnome (the starting race) through human, giant, elf, and sorcerer before you finally become a phantom. I imagine a lot of Dungeons & Dragons players would object to that hierarchy.
    
After a few minutes of play, the game crashed with a "gameloop" error message that recurs every time I try to get back into it. I assume I brought it down for everyone. Unfortunately, that happened before I got many screenshots.
       
For all I know, with this game, this is the winning screen.
         
I am thus forced to conclude, like El Explorador, that the game is unfinished. Even if it were playable, I'm not sure I'd call it an RPG. It seems more like a  "campaigner" (see the glossary), and in the past I've rejected games with a single improvable variable as RPGs.
     

Thursday, February 22, 2024

NetHack [3.1]: Blessed and Cursed

Random increases in attributes for no discernible reason were characteristic of this oddly "blessed" session--at least for a while.
     
Aamanz the Caveman didn't get very far. I overestimated the strength of the caveman's stomach, and he died of poison after eating a rotting kobold corpse. But I did pretty well with the next character, Aanzim the Archaeologist (god: Quetzalcoatl). The archaeologist is modeled on Indiana Jones, starting each life with a bullwhip, leather jacket and fedora. But he also has some useful tools, including a pick-axe, which chops through walls and obstacles, and a tinning kit, which lets you turn corpses into stored food for (usually safe) consumption later.
     
On Level 1, I noticed two features that I don't remember from previous NetHack versions:
     
  • The game occasionally gives you messages that "you feel strong!" or "you feel wise!" and raises your attributes accordingly. I'm not sure what actions prompt these messages, but I think I got stronger from kicking down a door.
  • You occasionally run into hints scribbled on the floor, sometimes with missing letters. The first time, I got: "They say a floatin? eye can defeat M?dusa." I think it refers to the ability to see monsters but not to become petrified while blindfolded with the "Telepathy" intrinsic, which you get from eating a floating eye. Later, I got (without the missing letters): "They say that a xorn knows of no obstacles when pursuing you," referring to the ability of the creature to tunnel through stone.
      
I assume they get harder to interpret as you move downward.
       
On Level 2, I found a fountain and drank from it. It spawned a demon, who offered me a wish. That was quite a bit of fortune. I spent a long time thinking about the wish. I nearly wished for a Wand of Wishing, but I figured the game wouldn't allow the loophole. I looked at some of my entries from my previous wins and decided to try a "blessed +2 Silver Dragon Scale Mail." The game said it didn't know what I was talking about. I tried again with gray dragon scale mail and it worked. So I have a high-AC item that resists magic. That should help a lot in the early levels. I'm sure many of you will have opinions about better items to wish for this early in the game, and I look forward to hearing them.
      
I don't know if this would have worked, but I deleted it before it was too late.
       
Level 2 also had a "delicatessen" offering piles and piles of food. I didn't buy any yet, as I was "satiated" and still had a few rations and tinned items, but it's nice to know it's there. I probably won't starve to death in the first 10 levels.
 
On Level 3, I managed to eat a floating eye and gain telepathy. I also got a random point of strength and constitution. More importantly, I found my first level in this version with two staircases going down. I took the first, and it led me to the first level of the Gnomish Mines. I confess I didn't expect the gnomes to be hostile, but they were. Although they're pretty easy, a rope golem nearly killed me (I couldn't get away because there was an NPC on the other side of me), and I had to pray to Quetzacoatl to get my health back after it got too low. 
      
Arriving in the Gnomish Mines for the first time.
     
On Level 6, I found a bunch of stores: Luds' Lightning Store, Sarangan's Delicatessen, Budereyri's General Store, and Nosnehpets' Hardware Store. The level was patrolled by non-hostile guards. I don't know if they're gnomes. They got upset when I drank from the fountains or tried to get into locked doors, so I didn't agitate them. 
     
A couple of awesome things happened on the level. First, enemies--including well-equipped gnome wizards and uruk-hai--kept spawning, so I kept killing them, taking their equipment to the general store, and getting paid. Eventually, I had enough to buy almost everything in the general store. I took a chance on a wand, and it turned out to be--I kid you not--a Wand of Wishing. At this point, I made the rookie mistake of not immediately wishing for a Scroll of Recharging and instead went with my second option from earlier, +2 Speed Boots. But I still have the wand, so I'll hold onto it until I get a Scroll of Recharging.

Second, a room on the level had an altar. When I entered the room, the game said that I felt at peace, so I guess it was probably lawful. I then sacrificed a gnome wizard on it, and my "pleased" god gave me a samurai sword named Snickersee, which I assume is better than my whip.
     
Nothing about what happens next is, alas, "wise."
      
Miscellaneous notes:
     
  • I've met a few friendly creatures. You can talk to them, but they just give one line canned responses. Hobbits always "ask about the One Ring." Dwarves always "talk about mining."
     
If you don't know, it's already too late.
       
  • I'm on the road this week and I forgot to bring my external numberpad. I had to play all my sessions with the on-screen keyboard to move diagonally. (There's a way to change the settings to allow diagonal movement with regular keys, but it's a weird cluster and I didn't want to screw up my muscle memory that way.)
     
Sigh. Go ahead. I'm ready. Explain why that cluster makes perfect sense somehow.
     
  • Enemies do indeed pick things up and use them against you in this version. They can also suffer effects from using cursed items.
       
Should've identified it first!
     
  • At one point, I killed an orc inside a store, and when I went to claim his stuff, the store owner told me I'd have to buy it. I guess that makes a certain amount of sense.
   
I was feeling pretty good about Aanzim's prospects, but it was time to head down for another conference session. I left the game running on my laptop in my hotel room. I had failed to note that the power cord had come loose from the transformer. I returned three hours later to find my computer had died, taking my DOSBox session and my character with it.
   
I'm going to need to take a few days.
     
Time so far: 5 hours
   

Monday, February 19, 2024

The Shadow of Yserbius: And Maps Have Made All the Difference

Thanks. I'll keep that in mind when I play a completely different game.
    
At some point in the last five hours, it became clear that continuing with this game was a somewhat ridiculous idea, but I continued anyway. I kept making loops through the various levels of Yserbius, getting as far as I could, dying frequently, respawning outside the mountain, leveling up, and buying inventory upgrades when I could afford them. There is a certain pleasure in getting killed repeatedly by certain enemies, improving, and watching your odds against them even out and then tilt in your favor. I suppose that's the only thing that kept me going.
   
I started writing up my experiences for this entry, toying with the idea of ending it here, when I got confused about where I had encountered certain NPCs and how certain dungeon levels connected to others. I started making my own maps and, as I should have come to expect by now, my experience with the game completely changed. Manually mapping changes everything. It becomes a goal in itself. It relieves the experience of somewhat boring dungeon slogs by frequently diverting you to a parallel activity. It makes you feel like you're making progress even when nothing particularly interesting is happening in the game. And it helps to keep better track of puzzles and problems. As I mapped, it occurred to me that the experience of mapping a tiled game is one that I should cherish, as the number of games that allow it (let alone require it) is swiftly diminishing.
      
Making maps gave my gaming a shot in the arm.
    
Combat got easier with my character leveling, with my equipment upgrades, and as I experimented with spells. In any battle that poses any danger, I typically cast "Shield" during the first round, reducing the damage I take from physical attacks. After that, I've learned that "Poison Cloud" does a great job softening up stacks of enemies. It only does modest damage per round, but if I can survive four or five rounds, the cloud will often wipe out half a dozen enemies at once. My physical attacks, which originally killed maybe one enemy per round, started to rack up a lot more critical hits. One thing I like about this game is that if you swing at a stack of enemies and you kill one, any excess damage is transferred to the next enemy. Some critical hits let me slay an entire stack at one time.
     
I win the battle after my "Poison Cloud" takes care of 4 troll rangers at once.
     
Keeping enough spell points to support a long expedition would be a problem if I didn't find mana potions everywhere. I typically start each expedition with my inventory full of mana potions, purchased in the shop. Each potion has half a dozen doses. After each combat, I fully heal, then chug enough of a potion to get my mana back up to maximum. Even with so much use, I often leave potions lying in the rubble because my inventory is full.
   
Incidentally, inventory might become a real problem at some point. By the end of this session, I had acquired two unique lockpicks and two unique keys. That's 40% of my inventory space right there. I assume they won't be the last picks and keys I encounter. I don't know when it will be safe to get rid of them. 

Some miscellaneous notes on exploration and character development:
   
  • I don't know if the game has secret doors. I haven't found one so far.  
  • I'm not sure what the "Detect" skill is supposed to do. It hasn't worked in any place that I've employed it.
     
I try "Detect" at every dead end, but nothing ever happens.
       
  • Levels are interconnected with teleporters, which look like doors.
  • Aside from keyed doors, teleporters, and trap doors, there have been no navigational obstacles so far--no traps, spinners, hidden doors, puzzle doors, levers, plates, dark squares, and so forth.
  • There's a "Leadership" skill that supposedly "increases strength, defense, and initiative of all party members." I hope that includes the one who possesses it, too, or I've been wasting points in it.
  • I have a high "Fencing" skill. Because of that, when I equip a sword, the game says, "Fencing skill will be helpful!" It does not say this when I equip a katana, supposedly the best sword, so I guess a katana isn't drawing from that skill.
     
As so.
     
  • While exploring, I found a Sword of Ice. I got excited, thinking that it was a magic sword that I could use, but the game said that it wasn't allowed by my guild. Later, though, when I found a Sword of the Flames, I was able to equip it with no problem. 
  • I started to find medallions. I'm currently equipping a "Carnivorous Medallion." I have no idea what it does.
  • The game decided that my maximum agility is 8. It won't let me increase it beyond that when I level up.

The Dungeon Entrance to Yserbius is 11 x 10. There are no encounters in its squares. Doors lead south to the Soldiers' Quarters, east to the Hall of Doors, and north to the Mines. The only thing of interest on the level is a locked door in the northwest corner. "Only heroes of the twentieth level or higher may venture beyond this door," a message says. I still have seven levels to go.
      
He's such a cuddly-looking cave bear.
     
For no other reason that it's right from the entrance and I tend to follow the right wall, I spent most of the initial hours exploring the Soldiers' Quarters. An early NPC, a human barbarian, questions why it's called that, as there don't seem to be any quarters or soldiers. A gremlin wizard offers some backstory, indicating that Yserbius is on an island, and its population is cut off from the rest of the world since the volcano makes the seas too rough for ships to approach. Other NPCs on the level say that I can acquire skills in the dungeon, and another says there are polar bears and ice lions deeper in the dungeon. A final one, a troll knight, tells me of a maze under Cleowyn's Palace that only thieves seem to be able to get through.

Random enemies, it turns out, do not scale with the strength of the character. I kept meeting individual wolves, goblins, spiders, imps, and other denizens well beyond my ability to just swat them away. As I reported last time, fixed encounters are a lot harder, but by Level 8, I was handling them with ease. Both the Soldiers' Quarters and the Maze have a fetish for combinations of halfling clerics and troll rangers, the former dangerous for their spells and the latter for their ability to paralyze. "Shield" stops them from doing much damage and "Poison Cloud" kills them both within a few rounds.
    
Chester reaches an unlucky level.
         
So far, I haven't solved a few mysteries and puzzles in the Soldiers' Quarters:
    
  • Four locked doors, two of which seem to go into the same room in the northeast. I've tried all four keys and picks that I found in the Mines.
     
Nothing opens this door.
    
  • A troll ranger NPC says: "Unless you have especially sharp eyes for traps, you should heed the sign at the end of the corridor. This bum leg of mine is proof of that sign's warning." The problem is, there's no sign at the end of the corridor, and I haven't encountered a single trap in the game so far.
  • At the end of one corridor, the game says, "You stumble upon an almost-empty nesting area." This sounds like text that would precede an encounter with some monster nesting there, but nothing happens.
  
The only exit from the Soldiers' Quarters was to the east, through a door marked "STAY OUT!" It led to the Treasury, Level 1, and specifically to an area so full of floor traps that I can barely move without falling down to the Basement beneath. The Basement, meanwhile, is hard to map fully because of a lot of one-way doors. I'm still in the process of mapping both. The basement has several NPCs, including an orc knight who says there's a "strange elfin race" deeper in the dungeon; a human barbarian who gives useless (for a single-player game) advice on party composition; a gnome thief who says there's more to the basement than meets the eye; and a human thief who says there's an area called the Wizard's Challenge on Level 3.
 
The Basement has a fountain that healed me once and then never again.
        
The Basement has the only location that I currently cannot pass because of a battle. In the southeast corner, in a 3 x 3 room, I meet a group of enemies that includes at least one king hobgoblin. He always goes before me, blasts through my defenses, and kills me in a single attack. The only luck I've had is to cast "Petrify" the first round on the king, but one of his allies just dispels it immediately.
    
The only battle I cannot get past so far.
    
East of the Dungeon Entrance is the Hall of Doors, which is only 16 x 8 unless a teleporter or secret door takes me to another half. Its NPCs mostly recap the backstory, except for a troll cleric who says that he saw a message on the floor that said if you want to reach the King's Apartments, you must "take a turn for the worse." He thinks it means that you have to get sick. There are two doors in the Hall of Doors that I cannot open and a northern exit to The Vestibule, which I've only begun to explore.
 
The north exit from the Dungeon Entrance goes to The Mines. I've almost completely explored its first level, but I haven't mapped it. I found two keys and a lockpick on the level, all of which were instrumental on some of the doors. An eastern exit leads to the Vestibule. I want to go through the Mines again and see if the lockpicks and keys reappear if you discard them, so I'll know if I can get them back if I discard them too early to save inventory space.
      
A lot of the NPC dialogue in The Mines has to do with locks and lockpicks.
     
Just as I was closing this entry, I found another lockpick in the Treasury. Lockpicks are differentiated by color; I've found green and red in addition to Cleowyn's Lockpick. I also just realized that I can manually put stuff in my "Quest Items" pouch, leaving more free spaces in my backpack. I assume that in a multi-player game, quest items are shared among all characters. 
   
I don't know what to do with all the money I've been accumulating. I've bought every equipment upgrade. I'll have to try some of the expensive scrolls and see if they're worth it. 
     
The 40,000-gold piece "helmet" was the last thing I bought worth saving for.
      
I'm inclined to continue with this single-character experience for at least a little while longer. It's a competent enough dungeon crawler, not terribly far from Wizardry or The Bard's Tale in quality, except for the baffling decision not to allow the single player to create a full party.
   
Time so far: 9 hours

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Game 504: NetHack [3.1 Series] (1993)

 
I love these moments in which my character is new and full of possibilities.
      
NetHack [3.1 Series]
United States
Independently developed and released in four versions between January and July 1993
Date Started: 11 February 2024
     
There was nearly a two-year gap after NetHack 3.0.10, the last release in the 3.0 series, which I covered--good lord--eleven years ago, in a series of entries that took 262 total hours. (Coverage starts here.) Version 3.1.0 was released in January 1993, and three bug-fix releases followed, culminating in 3.1.3 in July 1993. After that, it would be nearly three years before the next release, 3.2.0, in April 1996. Thus, the 3.1 series occupies a clear temporal pocket.
   
At this point, I've won Hack 1.0.3, NetHack 2.3e, and NetHack 3.0.10, none of which felt terribly different from the others. But from what I'm reading, NetHack 3.1.0 represents the most significant update in content and mechanics since Rogue. This is the first version to feature a branching dungeon, with multiple separate worlds such as the Gnomish Mines and the Elemental Planes. My understanding is that the Wizard of Yendor, now found in "Gehennom" rather than Hell, no longer has the Amulet of Yendor, but rather a book that you need to enact a ritual to get the Amulet of Yendor. There's a stronger mythology to the game, including a backstory. Mechanically, there are changes to the lighting and encumbrance systems. There are new objects, monsters, and artifacts.
    
A more detailed backstory distinguishes this latest edition of the long running series.
      
(If you're just joining us, NetHack is a freeware "roguelike" game, meaning that it adopts the conventions of Rogue [1980], including ASCII characters for graphics, randomly-generated dungeon levels, a wide variety of inventory items to identify and find, a large number of commands called by individual keyboard letters, and--most important--permadeath. When you die in the dungeon, your character is erased and you have to start over completely.)
        
At the outset, I'm going to tell you that I don't know if I have the stamina to replicate my "honest" win from 2013. My greater knowledge and experience with the game should mean that it doesn't take quite as long, but then again, that experience is over a decade old now. Moreover, it simply doesn't feel like a feat that I have to replicate. Thus, my current plan is to do my best with the first 10 characters to reach Level 3. After that, assuming it comes to it, I'll allow myself to save every couple of levels.
    
NetHack 3.1.3 opens the same way as the previous one. The game offers you the opportunity to play an archaeologist, barbarian, caveman, elf, healer, knight, priest, rogue, samurai, tourist, valkyrie, or wizard. Each has its own starting attributes and inventory. Other than "caveman" no longer being hyphenated, nothing has changed here. The game will also choose for you, which I'm going to do for the first 10 characters, so I get a sense of their strengths and weaknesses. In this case, the game chooses a samurai.
     
A new game begins.
    
But for the first time in the series, after character creation, we get a backstory:
     
After the Creation, the cruel god Moloch rebelled against the authority of Marduk the Creator. Moloch stole from Marduk the most powerful of all the artifacts of the gods, the Amulet of Yendor, and he hid it in the dark cavities of Gehennom, the Under World, where he now lurks, and bides his time.
      
The story goes on to say that I am a newly-trained Hatamoto, heralded from birth to be the instrument of my god, Amaterasu Omikami. I am destined to recover the amulet for my god. The name of the first level of the character and the name of the god differ by class. For rogues, it's Footpad and Kos; for healers, it's Rhizotomist and Hermes; for priests, it's Aspirant and Shan Lai Ching. The game mixes a lot of mythology: Marduk was the patron god of Babylon; Moloch is a Canaanite god in the Bible; Amaterasu is the goddess of the sun in Shinto mythology; and Hermes is of course Greek. As for "Shan Lai Ching," I'm guessing it's a play on Shan Hai Ching, the classic Chinese text also known as Classic of Mountains and Seas. NetHack has always been a bit of a melting pot that way. I'll cover other characters' gods as I get to them. I understand in future versions, they differ by the character's alignment.
   
As usual, the character begins on Level 1 of a randomly-generated dungeon, with the character represented by an @ symbol. I'll go ahead and recount Chester the Samurai's adventures in detail. I'm playing with NetHack version 3.0.10 open in an adjacent window so I can note the differences. I start by checking the command list to refresh my memory. The only difference I can see is that the new game has a "farlook" command (;), but it just seems to duplicate the existing "whatis" command (/), identifying an object by cursor.
        
Like its predecessors, the game benefits from exhaustive documentation, called up with the ? key.
       
I'm standing on a magenta potion when I start, which I pick up. Until I identify or swallow it, I won't know exactly what it does. Ditto the nearby scroll labeled PRIRUTSENIE. I find it's usually best just to read scrolls right away, at least early in the game, since it's the only way to find a Scroll of Identification, which you need to identify most other things. In this case, it turns out to be something else: "You feel like someone is helping you." The game prompts me to give it a name (for when I find the next one), so I put "helping." Eleven years ago, I would have remembered exactly what that message meant.

For other equipment, my character started with a +0 katana, a +0 wakizashi, a +0 yumi (bow), 27 +0 ya (arrows), an uncursed +0 splint mail, and 4 fortune cookies. The yumi and ya replace shurikens from the previous version, and I got one more fortune cookie than 3.0.10 allowed. It's soon joined by a cream pie, on the floor next to the scroll. There's nothing like eating a cream pie found on a dungeon floor.
   
Finally, a little dog is following me. NetHack always gives you a little pet to help at the beginning. I'm aware that there are ways to make the pet awesomely useful, but it's just a little more micromanaging than I want. I'll probably abandon him when I go down to the next level, if I don't accidentally kill him first.  
     
The samurai is not a stealth character. That's a ninja. Get your Japanese archetypes straight, gaijin.
         
I exit the room and take a hallway to another room, where I find a closed door and my first enemy: a newt, represented by a colon (:). I attack him with my katana by moving into him. He dies in a couple of hits but I lose 3 hit points in the process. These will regenerate at a rate of 1 per every 15 moves at my current level. The newt leaves no corpse.
    
A corridor leading from this room dead-ends. I hold down the S)earch key for a few seconds, but I do not find the door I suspect is there. I loop around to the other side, picking up a magic marker and 15 gold pieces. I k)ick open a nearby door which won't open with the O)pen command. The next couple of rooms are empty except for 7 gold pieces. On the way back to an earlier area, I kill another newt in the hallway, which leaves a corpse. I don't remember that newt corpses do anything for you, but neither do I remember that they do anything negative. I e)at it. The game says it "tastes terrible" but doesn't otherwise affect me. At worst, I just staved off hunger for another few rounds.

A kobold zombie (Z) randomly spawns as I pass through a room, and I destroy it in one hit. Another newt falls to my katana in a corridor. I miss a message and try using ALT-P to bring it back, forgetting that the appropriate command is CTRL-P. The game says that I pray to my god, who is displeased with me, probably for praying when I didn't need it. Praying can get you out of some sticky situations, but I don't remember the specifics.
   
Another room has a sewer rat, killed in one hit, and a "grid bug," which I don't remember from previous versions. My dog manages to get that one. I find a purple-red potion, get caught in a bear trap for a few turns, and find some more gold. One of the rooms I explore is dark, meaning I can only see a few squares around me. I have no lighting source, so I just have to deal with it. I find a gunyoki, which is what the game calls a food ration for a samurai. I don't think the previous version gave special terms for the samurai. Anyway, I'm good on food for a while, which makes me feel less worried about holding down S)earch to get the last couple of rooms.
      
My dog experience-jacks me.
      
I keep accidentally not picking up stuff because the last roguelike I played (Crypt) did it automatically. There's a way to set automatic pickups in NetHack, but I don't want to do it because at some point it becomes annoying.
   
As I wrap up the first level (minus an area I can't access because of a boulder blocking the corridor), I get hungry already. I e)at my cream pie.
   
I had hoped to find some more useful stuff on Level 1 and make it to character Level 2. It's not an auspicious beginning as I head down, leaving the dog behind me. I can always go back for him; NetHack doesn't delete the stairways like Rogue does.
     
Beginning Level 2.
    
Level 2 begins in a room with a spiked wand, some gold, and another newt, which I swiftly kill. There's also a statue of a kobold; I seem to remember that you can't really do much with statues. I get hungry again within a few minutes, so I eat a goblin corpse. Killing the goblin gets me to character Level 2, which raises my maximum hit points by 6 and my maximum power (spell energy) by 5. 
   
I find a bronze plate mail, which overloads me. I risk that possibility that it's cursed by trying it on. Oddly, it affords no better armor class than my splint mail (which I think means it must be -1), so I drop it. 
   
In further rooms on Level 2, I pick up a brown gem, a red gem, and a few more piles of gold. I kill two jackals and another newt and trip a trap that causes a rock to fall on my head. When I've finished exploring the level, I haven't found the stairs down, so I have to start searching every wall multiple times. This accelerates hunger, to alleviate which I eat the dead newt, which is rotten, which causes me to go blind for about a dozen turns. Eventually, I find the hidden room I missed, kill two more grid bugs, and pick up two spellbooks in the same room. The books turn out to have "Cause Fear" and "Detect Unseen," both of which could be useful. I typically don't rely too much on spells in NetHack, but maybe I'll try harder this time.
      
If something is unseen, how do I know to cast "Detect Unseen"?
     
Since I make it to Level 3, this first character is going to "count" against the first 10. I thus start walking more slowly and considering things more carefully. This means searching for traps occasionally, switching to my bow to shoot enemies from afar when they're more than a few squares away, and not taking unnecessary chances like kicking doors (which can injure you). Unfortunately, I still blunder into a water trap and my katana rusts; I switch it for my wakizashi. A chest has a dagger, some gold, and another wand.
   
Hunger reasserts itself as a problem. I blow through all of my fortune cookies, which have the following hints:
    
  • They say that greased objects will slip out of monsters' hands.
  • Extra staircases lead to extra levels
  • Eat your carrots. They're good for your eyes.
  • Ever tried reading while confused?
    
But soon I'm starving and fainting because I'm starving. In desperation, I try the two potions. One causes me to levitate; the other paralyzes me for a few rounds. I run up against a floating eye, who can paralyze, so I stand away and shoot arrows at him. Killing him gets me to Level 4, but I won't be able to enjoy it long if I can't find any food. In desperation, I eat an acid blob, which causes me to lose 10 hit points, but I don't think it does anything for my hunger. Neither does the corpse of a giant rat that I kill in the hallway. I pray to Amaterasu, but it says he's displeased.
     
This is always a bad message.
      
I manage to get from "Fainting" to just "Hungry" by eating some more rats and a floating eye corpse. I got lucky with the floating eye. They can paralyze, but I killed him in one hit. I ate his corpse, too, and the game said I felt a "strange mental acuity." This indicates that I gained the ability to detect monsters if my eyes are closed; I believe I need a bandana or another way to blind myself to activate it. Anyway, it's one of the many things on the long "ascension kit" list.
   
I enjoy that good fortune for about 5 seconds before I run into another floating eye, get paralyzed for about five turns, then awaken to find a giant rat on the other side of me. In desperation, I use one of my unidentified wands. It turns the floating eye into a Mordor orc, which promptly kills me when I faint again. Identifying my equipment shows that the dagger was a blessed +1 elven dagger, my ring was a cursed Ring of Polymorph, and my wands were of Cancellation and Polymorph. After I see my intrinsics, the game asks if I want an "account of foes vanquished." That's new to this version. I killed 28 creatures during my brief foray. 
    
A new post-game option gives you an account of your conquests.
       
That's Character #1. What lessons can I take from the experience? I'm not sure I did anything "wrong"; I just got unlucky with the availability of food.
   
I start again with Aamanz the Caveman, a Troglodyte of the god Anu (Mesopotamian god of the sky). He begins with a +1 club, a +1 bow, 15 +0 arrows, and a +0 leather armor. I seem to recall they suffer fewer penalties for eating bad things. We'll see how he turns out.
 
Time so far: 2 hours