Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sword of Glass: Addendum (and Vacation Announcement)

Well, I learned my lesson this week about scheduling postings. Knowing that I was going to be on the road for the latter part of the week, I spent most of last Sunday playing Swords of Glass and writing four postings (including my final Starflight reckoning), scheduling them for automatic posting each night, Monday-Thursday.

Then, in a series of great comments, readers noted some errors in my first and second Swords of Glass notes. But because I wasn't technically "around," my subsequent postings got published with no acknowledgment, as if I was just ignoring everyone.

The unseen-by-me "utilities" menu.

For the record, it turns out there was an entire sub-menu to Swords of Glass that I missed. Commands on this menu allow you to:

1. Wait out the effects of paralysis and sleep--I guess. Since readers told me this, I wandered around a bit trying to get paralyzed or slept again, but, wouldn't you know it, there were suddenly no traps. In my belief that paralysis and sleep were akin to permanent death, I was relying on some info from the fan pages I mentioned, but perhaps I misunderstood them.

2. Force a second party member to follow the main character, thus allowing you to bring a healer into the dungeon without having to control the second character on the keyboard. (But you have to split experience with that person so you level up more slowly.)

3. Death is not permanent. When your character dies, a grave stone appears in the dungeon. Another character can buy a resurrection potion and bring it to the dead character. Functionally, this is very difficult because resurrection potions cost a lot of money and you have to survive in the dungeon long enough to read the dead character. Just like in Wizardry, by the time your new character is advanced enough to do this, you might as well just keep playing with him. I suppose there are ways around this by leaving new characters expensive goods in the vault, though.

The second option is pretty advanced for the era, but then so is cooperative multiplayer.

At this point, though, I've already viewed spoilers for the game, and I think I've played my fill of Swords of Glass even if it's a little easier than I thought.

Unfortunately, my attempts to get ahead of the game will not save me for the rest of this month. Hence, the bad news: I will not be posting again until after October 4. I will be on the road for most of this period, and the time that I'm not on the road I'll be satisfying other professional obligations that Starflight had me neglecting. I'm sorry for such a long hiatus, but it's the only way to keep my CRPG addiction from completely ruining my career.

When I get back, I have to figure out the oddity that is Tera: La Cité des Crânes ("the city of skulls"). In the meantime, I hope new visitors enjoy the older postings. Talk to you in the fall!

Only my shaky 10th-grade French is keeping me from skipping on to Wizardry IV.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Swords of Glass: Final Reckoning

Right after this, a screen popped up and said "You Won!" You're going to have to trust me.

On Wayne Schmidt's tribute page to Swords of Glass, he says:

My interest in Swords of Glass began in 1987 when I purchased and played it with my son. I can still feel the thrill of excitement when, after two months of painstaking effort, we finally surmounted the last obstacle and captured the Sword of Glass.

I applaud this kind of nostalgia. This is really what CRPGs should be about. If I had a son--or, indeed, anyone in this household who even remotely enjoyed playing computer games--yeah, I'm looking at you, Irene--I think we could have a ball with Swords of Glass. She could map while I explore. She could play a wizard to my fighter. She could ensure that no game playing had to stop due to desperate need for a vodka gimlet. Oh, and she could wake up my f%&*#$ character when a trap puts him to sleep! I'll bet your son did that for you, didn't he, Wayne? Otherwise, I don't see how you could have won the game in only two months. [Later edit: turned out I was wrong about the permanency of sleep and paralysis. See this posting. Sorry, Wayne; sorry, everyone.]

I had mapped most of Level 2 when this happened and had my fighter character--who could suddenly cast spells after finding a spellbook (another nice innovation, allowing me to heal myself without returning to the town)--up to level 11. Frankly, I was already annoyed with the game when I tripped over a rock and somehow dropped my sword forever; plus, I had to abandon a bunch of my other hard-earned equipment when I fell into quicksand (in a dungeon, keep in mind.) On the plus side, there was a neat mapping puzzle having to do with appearing and disappearing walls, and the game provided the first battles with rhinoceroses and "land sharks" that I've ever experienced in a CRPG.

Reading through Wayne's walkthrough, it looks like by ending my game early, I missed out on:
  • Some Wizardry-style dungeon features like spinners and pits with poisoned spikes.
  • A large variety of brain teasers.
  • A randomly-generated dungeon on Level 8 that changes every time you enter. (I am again impressed.)
  • A menagerie of creatures that include jelly fish and squids, giant ants and mosquitoes and spiders, killer rabbits, giant amoebas, jack-o-lanterns, walking trees, storm clouds, friggin' giraffes, pterodactyls...Jesus Christ...kangaroos, "teste" flies (not a good spelling error there), elephants, tyrannosaurus, "furballs with teeth," (I'm not making this up but Wayne might be) "raunchy giraffes," and of course demons.

You can't fault the creators of Swords of Glass for unoriginality. Images courtesy of Wayne Schmidt.

I know I've been praising Swords of Glass for its scrappy innovations, but honestly, traps that effectively kill your character immediately with no chance of escape or save are a bit of a dealbreaker. So let's review and then get on to Tera: La Cité des Crânes or Wizardry IV depending on how taxing on my memories of high school French the former turns out to be.

1. Game world. None to speak of. It's possible the game came with a manual that told the back story, such as why you're seeking the Sword of Glass (or, you know, what it is), but neither of the two fan pages I've mentioned say anything about it, so I'm assuming it's just you and a dungeon. Score: 1.

2. Character creation and development. Character creation is about selecting a name, assigning some points to four statistics, and choosing between warrior and magician classes. Pretty basic. But leveling up is strangely satisfying, allowing you to channel more points into your attributes. Your character notably improves with each level. Nonetheless, there is no "role-playing" with characters; the game is basically a three-dimensional roguelike. Score: 3.


3. NPC Interaction. There are no NPCs that I could find, and the walkthrough didn't seem to give any indication that there are any at all. Score: 0.

4. Encounters & foes. There a quite a strange selection of creatures in Swords of Glass, but they are not described except by name. Many share the same image. There is no AI to speak of, and nothing to do in encounters except whack away. Score: 2.


5. Magic & combat. I love the magic system in which all of the spells are simply in Spanish. Other than that, it's a clone of Wizardry. Combat doesn't give you many options, but the ability to shoot arrows in multiple directions is innovative. Plus, the totality of combat in Swords of Glass is quite tactical, as you must carefully monitor your hit points and spell levels lest you get trapped too far from the surface. Score: 4.

6. Equipment. There's a decent variety: several types of main weapons and bows, five different pieces of armor you can wear (armor, helms, shields, greaves, and gauntlets), plus various potions and magic items (I really liked the magic map). The ability to increase their power through blessings is unusual to a CRPG. Score: 5.


7. Economy. You'd think with chests that respawn every time you re-enter the dungeon, it would be easy to get rich quick. I didn't find it easy. Healing, equipment, and blessings all cost enough money that you always need more. Score: 5.

8. Quests. You have but one quest, to find the Sword of Glass, and I gather its ending isn't particularly celebratory. No side quests. Score: 1.

9. Graphics, sound, inputs. Lousy, of course--you've seen the graphics, and I think there is only one sound in the game--but it's not like it pretends otherwise. Score: 1.

10. Gameplay. If it wasn't for that damned permanent paralysis and sleep [Later edit: wrong about this; see here], I'd rate the game pretty high. Although it's "linear" in the sense of being a single-dungeon, multi-level game, it doesn't restrict where you can go in the dungeon. It seemed to have a good balance in terms of monsters, you level at a good clip, and the cooperative multiplayer is quite impressive. It's not replayable except to the extent that any roguelike is replayable. Score: 5.

Final score: 27. That puts it on par with Rings of Zilfin and some of the roguelikes for enjoyability. It's worth a rainy afternoon but not a week.

Swords of Glass has a kind-of blue-collar charm, a certain nobility about its poverty. I'd still love to know who created it, but since Dean Tersigni's Glass Shrine has been entreating the author to write to him for eight years with no luck, I don't suppose we have much of a chance of solving the mystery here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Swords of Glass: Large, Full Dungeon

This is the most difficult monster on Level 1. You can't hit him!

The more I play Swords of Glass, the more I see it as the little CRPG that could. I spent this evening mapping the first level of the dungeon, which at 25 x 25 is the largest of the square-area games I've played so far (Might & Magic was 15 x 15, Wizardry was 20 x 20, and The Bard's Tale was 22 x 22). The dungeon is chock full of monsters, treasure, and interesting encounters.

And death. I cycled through six first-level characters before I finally survived long enough to raise a few levels and thus stay alive. At each level increase, you get another pool of points that you can put into health, strength, dexterity, or intelligence. My current character has risen five times, so he's getting pretty strong. He could still die at any minute, though--see below.

At five locations on the first level, you come upon pairs of doors side-by-side with a sign in front of them posing a riddle. You have to choose which door to enter. If you choose the right one, you get a nice piece of treasure; the wrong one, you find yourself roasting alive in an inferno. Here are a couple of the riddles:


So one of the signs is true and the other is false. If the first sign is false (e.g., both rooms have treasure or both have fire), then the second can't be true, so the first sign must be true, which means it has the treasure. Now try this one:


It's been a while since I had to solve a cryptogram. Well, HIO is almost certainly THE. That means HIOQO is either THERE, THESE, or THEME. "Theme" seems unlikely, and if it's "these," that means that another word, HQAO, begins with a TS. I'm going with THERE. That means for the long word in the first and second sentences, I have TRE---RE, which can't be anything but TREASURE. And so on. The solved cryptogram reads:

THE LEFT SIGN IS TRUE IF AND ONLY IF THERE IS FIRE IN THE ROOM. THE RIGHT SIGN IS TRUE IF AND ONLY IF THERE IS TREASURE IN THE ROOM.

Left side: AT LEAST ONE ROOM HAS TREASURE

Right side: AT LEAST ONE ROOM HAS FIRE

It took me a while, but I got it, and a Bow +1 for my troubles. Guessing means instant death, so you have to be careful.

Other different encounters include several statues that clue you to the location of treasure and stairs, a teleporter, "dark" squares that you have to carefully navigate, gargoyles on the wall that attack you and you can't fight back, and a pit of quicksand in which you have to abandon some of your equipment to escape.

Alas, proper spelling does not.
(Note: making fun of someone else's spelling or grammar virtually guarantees that you will have a major embarrassing mistake in your own posting. I look forward to the first person who tells me what mine is.)


The monsters are difficult but not impossible, with the exception of a "wispy shape" that takes only one damage per hit, and you only hit him one out of every dozen times you try. The creatures re-spawn constantly, though, and attack you from all angles, so you have to keep turning around and making sure you're not being followed. If you espy a monster from a distance, you can try shooting it with your bow, which allows you to direct shots to the right and left, as well as straight ahead, depending on where your foe is coming from. Not even Might and Magic V, which won't come out for eight years, allows anything but straight-ahead archery.

One of many nice little touches in Swords of Glass.

You are helped in your explorations by potions and other treasure, including an enchanted map that gives you a little mini-plot of the area. Monsters don't drop treasure, but chests are plentiful and the dungeon resets when you leave, so you can keep picking up treasure from the same chests. This sounds like it's too easy, but wait a second and I'll tell you something.


All of these interesting and innovative features are balanced by a couple of frankly unforgivable design flaws having to do with traps. First, you encounter traps in the corridors with no option to search for or disarm them ahead of time. Whether you trigger the trap or not depends on your dexterity, but even if you trigger it, it remains active and waiting to snare you when you pass that way again.

Even worse, opening chests has a chance of triggering poison, paralyze, or sleep traps. Poison is annoying as usual, but you can treat it with a healing potion or a trip back to the surface. Paralysis and sleep, however, never wear off. They are the equivalent of instant death. If you trip one of these traps, you have to kill DOSBox, reload, and create a new character. [Later note: as several readers pointed out, I'm wrong about this.] If you were playing a multi-player game, your second character could heal the first, I guess, but to have such unavoidable traps in a single-player, permanent-death game is just absurd.

Kojak will be stuck here forever. Maybe that's where all the statues came from.

I never did find a manual for the game, so the only way I know anything about the main quest is from Dean Tersigni's "The Glass Shrine" page, which gives a brief summary. Apparently the ultimate goal is to get down to the eighth level and find...see if you can guess it...the Sword of Glass. Why you'd want to find this particular weapon--a weapon that sounds like it would be good for exactly one hit--I'm not sure. There's no back story about a tyrant or usurper or anything. Anyway, one of the dangers of getting your "manual" from a fan page is spoilers, and Dean's has a big one: when you finally get the Sword of Glass, the game gives you a simple "You Win!" and that's it. I wish I hadn't seen that, but now that I have, I have no problem simply envisioning such text appearing on my screen the next time my character gets paralyzed or put to sleep.

In the meantime, I'll start mapping Level 2 and see how it goes.

The massive Level 1.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Game 25: Swords of Glass (1986)

I'm not a weaponsmith or anything, but I wouldn't rush the patent application on these.

Swords of Glass is so cute you almost want to pat it on the head. While the age of CGA graphics is in full-swing, and gamers are enjoying titles with the narrative complexity and open-ended exploration of Ultima IV, Might & Magic, and Starflight, here comes a text-based game in which you guide one character through a single wire-frame dungeon.

"Turn THIS lead into gold!" would be a great caption if I was using a gun.
The game doesn't appear on Wikipedia's chronology; it's only thanks to MobyGames that I found out about it at all. MobyGames lists it as "shovelware": a piece of software that wasn't offered individually but packaged with dozens of other titles and sold under the banner "100 FANTASTIC RPG ADVENTURES!" or something. The publisher was a now-defunct Minnesota company called "Keypunch Software," which apparently stripped the credits from the game, so no one now knows who created it.

Character creation is a text-based process of naming your character (you have up to 7 letters) and then rolling random values for hits, strength, dexterity, and IQ, and then supplementing them from a pool of six points. You need at least 9 strength to become a warrior and at least 9 IQ to become a wizard. Those are the only character class choices.

You have to love "possible kinds to be" instead of something more formal, like "potential character classes."

It's then a quick trip to the store for some basic equipment.

Note the first option. Hey, grind some of that up and throw it into a goblin's eyes and it stings, man!

In addition to the (s)tore, the town boasts a (h)otel and a (t)emple.

A town that literally leaves everything to the imagination.

When you choose to (b)egin your dungeon explorations, the game taunts you to "ENTER IF YOU DARE!" and then notes goofily, as you move away from the dungeon stairs, that "well, Toto, this doesn't look like Kansas anymore..." After that, it's all about exploring, mapping, killing monsters (so far, I've met "bruisers," alchemists, and rodents), finding treasure chests, and dealing with traps, and, you guessed it:

Every damned game has to have poison. Most spell it right.

So, right now you're thinking to yourself, "Ha! Sounds pretty lame! I bet this is a one-post game for The CRPG Addict!" (And yes, "The CRPG Addict" has a capital "The.") Well, sit back and hold on, kids, 'cause I'm about to pull the rug out from under you. Notice how much space is wasted--like half the screen--in the image above? Well, let's rectify that by heading back up to the town and adding a second person to my "party." Back to the dungeon we go and . . .



. . . what do we have here? Two sets of commands, two maps, and characters who appear to be looking at each other? That's right, you smug bastards, you're looking at cooperative multiplayer. Let me say that again: cooperative multiplayer--in a piece-of-junk, written-by-a-high-school-kid-in-his-basement, shovelware CRPG. As far as I know, this is the first multiplayer in a graphics-based CRPG (I'm sure I'm wrong; I just don't know of any others), and we don't see it again until...what?...Federation II?

As exciting as that is, I can't really make use of it because The CRPG Addict is a lone ranger, and not ambidextrous. But Swords of Glass has a few other surprises. Let's start with the spells, if you happen to choose a magician. As in Wizardry, you get a set number of spells per level, and as in Wizardry, which featured spells like HALITO and KATINO, the spells in Swords of Glass have strange, otherworldly names (bottom of the screen):

I'm looking forward to level 3, when I get "tumadre."

That's right: my four years of high-school Spanish has finally proven some value. For those uneducated, "pocofuego" means "little fire," and "mapa" means "map." Other spells in the game include "helio" (ice), "melaza" (molasses; it's a paralyze spell), and "infierno" (inferno). Brillante! Estoy muy impresionado!

What else? Remember that chalk I was making fun of? Well, it turns out it has a pretty useful purpose: you can mark marks on dungeon walls so you can track where you've been. In a game that features teleporters, this could be awfully useful. Quick, give me the name of any other CRPG in which you can make a mark without dropping some inventory on the ground. I can't think of one.

Graffiti!

You know how I'm always bitching about CRPGs that give you piles of money with nothing to spend it on? Well, not this game. In Swords of Glass, you can take any weapon or armor you want into the temple and ask the priest for a blessing. They get progressively more expensive as you add more +s to your equipment. I'm guessing you never run out of the need for cash.



It's these touches and others--like the little automap on the screen, or a "vault" where you can store good equipment for later characters--that explain why this otherwise-throwback game has a small but devoted online following, with sites like The Glass Shrine and Wayne Schmidt's Swords of Glass page. I owe both of these pages for helping me to figure out some basic game information, since I couldn't find a manual anywhere.

So I'm going to give this game it's full due. I can't say for sure that I'll play it until I win, because unfortunately it's a permanent-death game, and I suspect my patience will run out after the sixth time I lose a level 5 character to a wight. But the unnamed developer has certainly intrigued me enough for a few nights of dungeon crawling.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Starflight: Final Assessment

I never did figure out what the hell this was all about.
        
In Dungeons & Desktops, Matt Barton calls Starflight a "space exploration game" with "CRPG elements." A web site I visited post-victory, "Starflight: the Lost Colony," calls it an "open-ended simulation game." Though it's on both MobyGames's and Wikipedia's CRPG lists, and although I got addicted to it, I never really felt I was playing a CRPG. Aside from the title of my blog, I'm not sure how much I care. Starflight was a delightful surprise of a game--just the sort of game I started this project to find--and I had a lot of fun. Let's see if I come up with a score that reflects that.

This should be old news by now, but I'm using the GIMLET scale I outlined five months ago.

1. Game World. Absolutely top-notch. You have an entire galaxy to explore with a fascinating backstory that is sketched out in the manual but only fully revealed as you explore, find artifacts and messages, and talk to various races. The lore is unique and interesting, the final twist is amazing, and some mysteries persist even after you've won. Unlike almost every other game of the era, your actions measurably affect the game world and your relationships with the various alien races. I can't think of many games that do it better. Final score: 9.

This was a definite Sixth Sense moment.
    
2. Character Creation and Development. It's the lack of both that make me hesitate on the "CRPG" angle. Yes, you have up to six "characters," and yes, you can choose their names and races and incrementally train them. The problem is, once you load them into your ship, your characters cease to really exist as separate characters. They're just part of your ship, occupying its various roles. No one talks to them or refers to them individually. Although you can train them in various skills, you only really need to train them in the one skill that goes with their function, and you can maximize this fairly quickly. Except for the fact that you can't have Elowan and Thrynn in the same crew, and those races react to you depending on who you have, your choice of races affects nothing about the game. Final score: 2.

Going with a Star Trek theme just seemed way too obvious.

3. NPC Interaction. Reasonably excellent. You must establish meaningful communications with the various alien races to understand the game world, figure out the main quest, and learn the locations of planets and artifacts. The game gives you several "attitude" options when speaking to the aliens--hostile, friendly, and obsequious (there's a word you don't often encounter--and you have to carefully figure out what works best with which races. The aliens only speak to you for a limited time, so you have to choose your questions carefully. Although you don't really have "dialog options" in the manner of the Bioware/Black Isle games of the next decade, the dialog in Starflight is more advanced than anything else in this era except Ultima IV. Final score: 8.

4. Encounters and Foes. The "monsters" in Starflight are unique to this game, fully described, and very interesting, with their own personalities and attitudes. They behave completely differently depending on who they are and what you've done to them. Oddly for a CRPG, you can get entirely through Starflight without fighting a single battle, so concepts of "respawning" don't apply. Final score: 8.

Hmmm...maybe I should destroy their home planet, just for kicks.
       
5. Magic and Combat. This being a science fiction CRPG, there's no "magic" in the game, but there is some combat. I suppose you could fight extensively if you wanted to. Destroying enemy ships allows you to loot them for their minerals and fuel, and you have several races that are more than happy to fight you. But the mechanics of combat are extremely weak. Once you raise your shields and arm your weapons, you just point and shoot, and the interface to do so is clunky and nonresponsive. The weakest part of the game. Final score: 1.

It's like sort-of point and sort-of shoot.
           
6. Equipment. There are two types of "equipment" in this game: ship upgrades and artifacts. At the beginning stages, it's very satisfying to progressively upgrade your ship with better weapons, armor, engines, and cargo capacity. Artifacts are strewn across the planets, but very few of them actually do anything. Those that are helpful are always found in fixed locations, never randomized, which doesn't reward open exploration. You have to take the artifacts back to Starport to "analyze" them, which is always satisfyingly cryptic: you get some idea what the artifact is supposed to do, but you don't fully find out until you employ it in the field. My biggest complaint: the best artifacts are found close to the end of the game when you no longer need them. Final score: 5.

A fully equipped star ship.
       
7. Economy. There are several ways to make money in Starflight: mining for minerals, collecting life specimens, destroying and salvaging enemy ships, and finding suitable planets for colonization. To me, mining was absurdly addictive, and even towards the end of the game I couldn't suppress feelings of delight whenever I stumbled upon a particularly rich vein of minerals. But you lose the need for money about halfway through the game, when your characters are fully trained and your ship fully equipped and your finding more Endurium than you know what to do with. When you win the game, you get 500,000 credits that serve no purpose. Final score: 6.

8. Quests. The game has a compelling main quest with a great twist, but there is only one outcome, no opportunity for role-playing, and no side quests. Unusual for the era, the main quest is on a time limit (which turns out to be plenty of time). Final score: 5.

9. Graphics, Sound, and Inputs. I had no complaints at all with the EGA graphics, but we're still in the "painful era" for sound, and I played the game with the sound turned off. The controls leave a little to be desired. You essentially have to use the number pad to scroll your way through the menus, which takes an annoyingly long time in combat (you're rushing to get from "communications" to "navigation" to put your shields up). It would have been very helpful to hotkey certain actions, as most of the keyboard is unused. Final score: 3.

10. Gameplay. The gameplay is utterly open-ended, allowing you to explore the whole galaxy (to the limits of your fuel, anyway) right from the beginning. The pacing is good: I got addicted to it quickly and wouldn't had minded if it had lasted a few more hours, but it seemed to end at the right time. On the other hand, there's virtually no replayability except to mine new planets. [Later edit: reader Max points out that one replayability option is to choose Thrynn crewmembers and make friends with that race, getting different clues and reaching the endgame through a different route. Point taken, and final score increased.] On the question of difficulty, it's tough to evaluate. If you try to engage in combat, it's too hard, but other aspects are too easy. For instance, the manual makes a big deal about the horrible things that happen if you lose your Terrain Vehicle, run out of fuel and have to make a distress call, or recommend a bad planet for colonization, but really you'd have to be an idiot to do any of these things. Final score: 6.

The CRPG Addict is no idiot.

Final ranking: 53. This puts it with Ultima IV but not quite as high as Might & Magic I. I don't know how well this reflects the game. Perhaps I need to add an "addictiveness" handicap to my rankings, because there's just something ineffably compelling about Starflight. From the moment I started playing it, I played it for a few hours every night.

In 83 more games, I'll be playing Starflight II. I look forward to it.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Starflight: Genocide!

Notice how there's no planet in my planetary view screen? Yeah.

"Hi, honey! Huh. Guess what I did at work today? I wore a bomb--a nuclear bomb--in a field of flowers. I could get lucky. Tomorrow, I could have a bigger bomb. I could kill more people. Maybe they'll be innocent people. Children, maybe." -- John Crichton, Farscape, Season 4, Episode 21, "We're So Screwed, Part 3"

This is my "won!" posting for Starflight, and it includes a major spoiler that you won't want to read if you plan to play and win the game yourself. Stop here if that's the case.

...

Okay, so I blew up a planet and killed an entire race this evening.

It started with the discovery of the Institute's old headquarters on Akteron-6, where in a long document related to "Project Teleport," I learned about the Old Empire's plan to teleport an agent to the Crystal Planet --the veritable "Death Star" causing suns to flare and destroy all life in their systems--and have him destroy it with a bomb. The agent, Commander McConnell, made it to the planet and set off the explosive, but it didn't do anything. Ultimately, the Institute discovered they would need three devices:

  • A crystal orb to nullify the planet's defenses. This is what the Veloxi referred to as their holy artifact, the "small egg," and I had a clue from them about where it is.
  • A crystal cone to identify the location of the control nexus of the Crystal Planet. The message gave me coordinates where I could find it, but noted that it was "deep in Uhlek space."
  • A bomb. I already had one, and then I found a second one after getting a clue from the Veloxi about a planet on the "handle of the axe" (a reference to an axe-shaped constellation). It was apparently left over from the destruction of the Phlegmak.

I knew the planet that held the crystal orb but I didn't know the coordinates yet, so I set out to find the crystal cone first. But I kept getting attacked and killed by Uhlek. Finally, I'd had enough. Since I had two bombs, I could spare one. I flew to the Uhlek home planet (clue to its location received from the Spenim) and set off the bomb. As the Spenim had indicated, killing the Uhlek "mind ganglion" apparently took care of the entire fleet. No more Uhlek.

I retrieved the crystal cone and then followed some clues I'd received from the Elowan to some other Old Empire bases, where I found references to two other artifacts: a "tesseract," which turned out to halve my fuel usage (unnecessary at this point because I'd found a boatload), and a "red cylinder," which turned out to perform an amazing service: when in orbit around a planet, it pinpoints the location of artifacts. This allowed me to retrieve the crystal orb from the Velox planet (fortunately, I didn't run into any Veloxi again after that) as well as a "crystal pearl" from a planet on which the Spenim told me was a "city of the Ancients." All I found was the pearl and a bunch of Endurium laying about. (The pearl, by the way, teleports you away from battle if you're about to die. Handy, but it turns out I never engaged in battle again after this.)

This is supposed to be a "City of the Ancients." All I see is a ruin and a bunch of Endurium fuel...
 
It seemed I had all the artifacts I needed to engage the Crystal Planet. I first returned to Starport to get new armor for my ship and see if there were any final notices. If I hadn't just found a huge cache of Endurium, this one would have been a little annoying:

I smell corruption.

I headed off for the Crystal Planet at the coordinates given to me by the Veloxi. It was where they said it was. With my crystal orb, I evaded their defenses, and the crystal cone pointed out the location of the control center.


 
I found a ruin on the planet's surface with the remains and last log of Commander McConnell. It gives a hell of a twist ending. In it, he remarks on the lumps of Endurium found everywhere on the planet. He went ahead and set the charges and waited for them to blow. As he waited, he was contacted telepathically by the Ancients, who turned out to be...wait for it....the lumps of Endurium.

That's right. The Ancients haven't left the galaxy; they're everywhere, and we're burning them for fuel! Their extremely slow metabolism means that they live "in an entirely different time framework" and don't even realize that carbon-based life forms are sentient. They saw us as a virus to destroy. While expressing remorse for this revelation, Commander McConnell noted that nonetheless he hoped the bomb succeeded. "At this point, it's us or them."

Agreeing with this sentiment, I guess, I dropped the bomb and skedaddled. The rest was predictable:


 
Left unstated is whether humans are going to continue with hyperspace travel now that we know we're destroying sentient lifeforms to do it. Given what I've learned about Interstel in this posting, I'm guessing yes. Thus, I committed genocide twice in the same night.

So...wow. I won. It seemed to come awfully quickly, and I feel like there's a ton about the game that I never explored. I never figured out what was going on with the Minstrels or Mysterions, nor did I ever come to a meaningful resolution with the Gazurtoids (I would have liked to destroy their home planet but I never found out where it was). Consulting a walkthrough (which I can do after I win), it doesn't appear that I missed anything, though, save a third bomb located on one of the Arth system planets.

I created a YouTube account to try to record and post better videos, and below is the first one I uploaded, showing the process of winning Starflight. In the future, I'll record and narrate more videos during the process of playing each game.


Final reckoning to follow.

Starflight: Races


It loses something without the animation.

Tonight, I discovered something delightful. If you're in Starport and you don't move for a while, your character begins tapping his foot impatiently. This is an ancestor of the funny comments ("Booooring!", "I grow weary of standing still") that your Baldur's Gate characters make when you abandon them for more than a few minutes. I have to start tracking all of these "firsts" in a spreadsheet or something.

Finding New Scotland (which I was talking about at the end of my last post) was easy with some deduction. The clue was that the planet was the second one in the star system at the upper end of the "Staff Constellation." There were several constellations that looked like they could have been in the shape of a staff, but I noted one was a fairly quick flux ride from Earth. I figured anything called "New Scotland" would be easily accessible from Earth. (Incidentally, LordKarnov42 also used the same logic and tried to help me out in a comment. I'm sorry I didn't read his comment until after I had found it, but I'm also glad I figured it out on my own.) I was right. Landing, I found a lot of Ancients ruins with fuel plus a clue to go to a specific location. There were a number of newspapers referencing "Harrison," who appeared to be a space pirate based on New Scotland. I visited a couple of his bases and found a "rod device" and a clue as to another of his bases on a distant planet. There, I found a colonizable planet and an "ellipsoid" artifact that turned out to have been stolen from the Veloxi. Returning it made them my best friends.

Tonight, this blog is going to help me get my notes together. I spent a while talking to the Spemin, the Veloxi, and the Elowans, and among them I learned so much that I'm having trouble keeping it all straight. Here is what I know, at this point, about the various races in Starflight.

Humans

Humans discovered Endurium (the mineral that allows faster-than-light travel) in 2100 and began using it to explore the galaxy and colonize planets. The Old Empire was formed, and contacts were made with the Velox (2300), Spemin (2675), and Thrynn and Elowan (2770). Between 3000 and 3400, there was a galactic war between the Old Empire and four other races that seemed to result in victory for the Old Empire, but on the cusp of this victory, some phenomenon caused numerous stars, including Earth's, to "flare" and destroy all life in their galaxies. A group of scientists called the Institute initiated Project Noah to save humanity by seeding the rest of the galaxy with colonies and ships. Only one of these, on Arth, seems to have survived. (At least one of the others was sabotaged by Laytonites.) Even Arth collapsed into dark ages for 900 years after an alien bomb went off on the planet. Humans on Arth rediscovered Endurium in 4594 and began exploring again. So far, I have encountered no other humans in the galaxy.

Velox


 
The Veloxi are a hive-based insect species ruled by a queen. They are described by others as "isolationist and arrogant." They became allies of the Old Empire after a few misunderstandings and skirmishes. They claim that they helped the Old Empire when the "first wave" (Phlegmak and Numlox, who the Veloxi claim to have destroyed) attacked, but that the Old Empire refused to assist when the Veloxi alone were attacked. In response, the Veloxi refused to help against the "second wave" (Uhlek and Gazurtoid), dooming the Old Empire to destruction.

Some Veloxi were living on Arth during the collapse, but presumably they have more in common with Arth humans than their cousins in the galaxy (I have two Veloxi in my crew). The Veloxi demand Endurium from me every time I encounter them.

Their "Prophecy of the Egg" concerns the Crystal Planet that causes suns to flare. They think it will destroy all life in the galaxy except the Veloxi queen. It will then hatch, revealing an Ancient named Xpu, who will mate with the queen and create a new race.

They were the ones that put the probe around the planet I wrote about yesterday. Apparently, my answers were supposed to have something to do with multiples of six (the Veloxi holy number). My destroying the probe doesn't seem to have bothered them. They became my close friends immediately after I returned to them an artifact that had been stolen from them by a human space pirate named Harrison.

Elowan


 
The Elowan are a plant species that speak like a cross between Einstein and Hamlet. They are scientists and healers. They and the Thrynn hate each other for reasons so far unrevealed. Like the Velox, there were Elowan living on Arth during the dark ages that have lost touch with other Elowan in the wider galaxy. I have two Elowan in my crew.

From speaking to them, I learned that they are on their third homeworld, the first two having been destroyed by flares. They and the Thrynn are originally from the same system, and the Thrynn make war on them to find and consume their "headfruit," which bestow intelligence on the Thrynn (this sounds a bit like a Farscape episode involving the Scarrans). The Elowan know that the Thrynn's sun is due to flare soon but don't intend to tell them.

When the Old Empire first encountered the Elowan, humans didn't even know that Elowan were sentient because the Thrynn told them they weren't.

The Elowan say that Arth's sun will flare in the final week of the tenth month of the year.

Thrynn


 
The Thrynn are a saurian species that specialize in statescraft and oratory. They look like small dinosaurs and dislike the Elowan for reasons I don't know, although the Thrynn and Elowan stuck on Arth seem to have found a way to get along. A Thrynn captained one of the earliest expeditions from Arth and ended up destroying an Elowan ship. He came across as a bit of a jerk in the manual, so I decided not to include a Thrynn crewmember.

According to the Elowan, the Thrynn are a predatory and treacherous species who will soon be dead when their sun flares, although the Thrynn don't know this.

Either because I have Elowan in my crew or because I spoke to the Elowan first, or both, the Thrynn won't even talk to me. They attack when they see me.

Spemin


 
The Spemin are a bunch of blowhard slugs who worship a "blob goddess." During the Old Empire's war, they constantly switched sides to their own advantage. When I first encountered them, they claimed to be a superior species that could destroy me easily and demanded that I worship them. When I accidentally happened upon their home planet, they swarmed and attacked me, but after I destroyed one of their ships, they immediately capitulated and started kowtowing to me. In one encounter (I forgot to take a screenshot), a Spemin captain said something like, "WE SURRENDER! DON'T HURT US! HERE IS THE SECRET LOCATION OF OUR HOME PLANET: 82, 148. GO THERE AND DESTROY OTHER SPEMIN BUT SPARE US!" It was a riot. They also claim to have avoided destruction by the Gazurtoid by sitting in pools of water every time they encounter them.

Gazurtoid



The Gazurtoid are an octopus-looking aquatic species who believe it is their destiny to rid the galaxy of "air-breathers." They fly around spouting biblical-sounding verse to that effect. They were one of the four races who attacked the Old Empire, although they don't seem to have been working in concert with the other evil races. By some accounts, they hate the Uhleks in particular. The Gazurtoids fly in spaceships impervious to missiles.

Uhlek

I haven't encountered the Uhlek yet, unless they are the species that keeps attacking my ships without even hailing me. The Spemin and Elowan claim that the Uhlek are actually a single creature (a "mind-ganglion" according to the Spemin) that lives deep in its planet and sends "parts" of itself into space. Sounds like a good place to drop my black egg bomb.

Numlox

The Numlox were one of the races that attacked the Old Empire. I haven't even seen a description of them yet. The Mechans say there is an 84% chance they were completely destroyed in the war with the Old Empire, and the Veloxi claim they wiped them out.

Phlegmak

Same as the Numlox.


Mechans


 
Mechans technically aren't a race but are simply androids created by humans. The only group of them I've encountered were from the Old Empire and were guarding a colony world called "Heaven." There are Mechans on Arth, too, and you can choose them as crewmembers although their utility is limited because they can't be trained.

Ancients

The Ancients were a race that existed long before humans left Earth. Their ruins are found all over the galaxy, and they seem to be the first to have used Endurium for faster-than-light travel. Some races say they came from a distant galaxy and seeded this one with life, and that they will later return to judge the races. Others say that they created something called a "Crystal Planet," to which I recently got coordinates. No one seems to know what kind of race they were.

The Veloxi say that the Ancients were Veloxi, but the Elowans say that this is just "conceitful folly."

Minstrels


 
The Minstrels are a strange race floating about the galaxy singing, according to the Elowan, a "song about what was." I haven't been able to decipher their cryptic riddles. Also according to the Elowan, what we see of the Minstrels is the Minstrels themselves, not their ships--they apparently do not require any ships. They are also known as Delasa'Alia.

Mysterions or Unknown Morse Code Species


 
This is the species that transmitted what turned out to be Morse code for the telephone number (now disconnected) of the game developers. Technically, I suppose they could be Uhlek, Numlox, Phlegmax, or Ancients, because I don't know what any of those races look like, but I'm guessing they are "Mysterions." This latter term appears on the Starflight codewheel with all the other races, but I otherwise haven't encountered them.


Now, on the main quest and next steps. The Elowan claim that the Ancients created the "Crystal Planet" whose function is to "destroy all life," so I'm guessing this is what's causing the stars to flare. I have coordinates for the Crystal Planet from the Veloxi. I can't just head over there and drop my egg bomb because, according to the Elowan, it "unleashes a mighty force" that I need a "certain device," known to the Institute but not to anyone else, to protect me against it. I also need some "cone of crystal" to enter the "nexus of control" on the planet.

Fortunately, I have a lot of other places to explore based on my conversations with these races:

  • The location of the Uhlek homeworld, which I might be able to bomb
  • The location of the Elowan homeworld
  • The location of the Thrynn homeworld
  • Various clues that point me to the location of Akteron-6, where the Institute had a base
  • A fabled City of the Ancients in a nebula near Spemin space (I actually found this planet, I think, but without specific coordinates I couldn't find any city, just ruins and lots of Endurium, and an artifact called a "red herring" which, predictably, wouldn't fit into my Terrain Vehicle)
  • More Old Empire ruins on an ice planet
  • Another set of Old Empire ruins in a yellow planet system
  • The planet Sphexi where the Veloxi claim is a "magnificent hexagon" (a hive?) in which another egg bomb is stored

This game sure doesn't get boring. I feel like I'm on the right path, which is a good thing, because according to the Elowan, I only have five months to save Arth.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Starflight: Closer to the Main Quest

Wikipedia lists 23 people with the surname Layton. I'd like to think he was named after Turner Layton (1894-1978) who wrote the sublime jazz standards "After You've Gone" and "If I Could Be with You."

The lesson is: don't assume that just because someone only says a limited number of things on your first encounter, that's all they have to say.

Tonight, after screwing around the galaxy and wasting fuel for a couple of hours, I managed to run into the same "Noah 9" Mechans from the previous night. I spoke to them again, and they gave me all kinds of information that they didn't give me the first time. In fact, I had to speak to them four times before I finally seemed to have milked them for all their data. For all their promises that their databanks were open to me, they were awfully quick to terminate our conversations.

It would take a lot of space to write down everything I learned in subsequent visits, but these are the highlights:

  • The Gazurtoid--the bible-thumping, "many-tentacled aquatic creatures" I already encountered--live in "tremendous colony ships." They are enemies of the Uhlex (whom I have not encountered, I don't think), and both of them were enemies of the Old Empire (Earth). The Uhlex have particularly powerful weapons.
  • The Mechans believe the Old Empire's other enemies, the Numlox and the Phlegmak, were destroyed during the war. The Phlegmak had powerful bombs shaped like black eggs that destroyed many of the Old Empire's planets. (Anything to do with the Veloxi's "prophecy of the Egg?")
  • The Old Empire allied with a particularly cowardly race called the Spemin. When the Old Empire first encountered them, they were in a pre-technological state, but the Old Empire helped boost their level. A fascist-sounding movement called the Secret Society for Spemin Superiority (SSSS) gained power and attacked the Old Empire with its own technology. When the Numlox and Phlegmak attacked, the Spemin begged the Old Empire for protection, which was granted, but they turned on the Empire again after the war was over. I'm guessing the Spemin are the egotistical slimes I wrote about at the end of my last posting.
  • All those places on planets where I've been finding Endurium are ruins of the Ancients, not the Old Empire. Ancients ruins are usually found in Class M star systems.
  • The Velox (the insectoids) were the first race the Old Empire encountered, and the Old Empire took much of technology from them. They are arrogant and isolationist.
  • The Laytonites were a faction of the Old Empire, apparently led by someone named Layton, that believed the Empire was evil and should die. They were the ones that sabotaged Project Noah.
  • The first Project Noah mission failed because a failure in a "ring device" made it impossible for the navigators to identify "continuum fluxes." I think continuum fluxes are the little wormholes that send you flying across the galaxy, saving time and fuel. I don't seem to have any problem finding them despite not having a "ring device."
  • An Earth organization called the Institute--the ones alternately responsible for Project Noah--studied the Ancients. Two common beliefs were that the Ancients had originally seeded the universe with life and that they would one day return to judge mankind. The Ancients may have built a device called the "Crystal Planet." Don't know what that is yet. There might be some Ancients still living in Spemin space.
  • There is a "Dead Zone," identified by the Institute, of flared stares progressing from the "coreward" (right) side of the galaxy towards the center. I have verified this through my explorations, noting that all the stars to the right of a certain point say "post-flare," those in the middle are about to flare, those slightly more to the left are "unstable," and the ones on the far left are fine. This would suggest that Arth has a limited time to live until I can figure out the cause. Notes in the Operations Room at Starport confirm this. I suspect this, then, is the main quest, and since the destruction of stars is progressing, it would seem I have a limited time to complete it.

My Mechan conversations gave me a ton of clues for exploration. Some of them were specific coordinates and planets (including direct coordinates for a station on Earth) and some were hints, like a fabled city of the ancients somewhere in a nebula near Spemin space.

One of the clues led me to a nearby star in which there were supposed to be some ruins on one of the planets. As I approached, I was challenged by a probe that shot a series of numbers at me and asked me to answer "yes" or "no." I tried to discern a pattern in the numbers, but I only got through three before I apparently answered wrong and the probe attacked me.

Does it have something to do with Rolling Rock?

I destroyed it fairly easily, landed on the planet, visited the coordinates, and damned if I didn't find a "black egg" artifact. Does this mean I now have the ability to destroy a planet? If so, I need to find where the evangelical octopuses call home.



The Earth coordinates looked to be in the Arizona area. (Incidentally, the coordinates I was given, 12N, 104W, doesn't correspond with actual latitude and longitude on Earth, which would be in the Pacific Ocean off Mexico.) Landing, I found a ruin where messages told me of the last days of Earth before the solar flare and the location of another base in a nearby system. There was also an artifact called a "hypercube."

150 degrees...Arizona...sounds about normal.

On Mars (which mysteriously has water), at the "Center of the North Pole" (which only makes sense if navigation is based on a Mercator map), I found the Institute's "Starflight Navigational Research Station" and a "ring device" artifact. If my conversation with the Mechans is to be believed, this should help me find fluxes. I'm curious what it will do that I'm not already doing.

I knew one of the two nearby stars was Mardan because I had clues about Mardan-2 and Mardan-4. One of the systems only had three planets, so by process of elimination I visited the other. On Mardan-2, I got just a bunch of cryptic messages about a lack of resources. On Mardan-4, I found (as was promised by the Mechans), a mining bonanza, including lots of Ancients ruins with fuel. I filled my hold and returned to Starport.

Most of the artifacts I found were worthless as usual. The ring device, the analysts confirmed, would help me find fluxes. The analysis of the hypercube seems to be screwing with me: is it a Rubik's Cube? If so, it's worth 15,000 MUs. I think I'll keep it just in case it does something important.

Definition of "easy victory": giving a Rubik's cube to a color-blind person.

Back out into space. "The richest and strongest planet of the Old Empire," the Mechans told me, "was New Scotland, the second planet in the upspin end of the Staff Constellation." One theory is that I have to find a clue as to where the "Staff Constellation" is somewhere else. But I noted that Earth was described as being in the "Pythagoras Constellation" which, true to its name, featured three stars in the shape of a right triangle. Does that mean I need to be looking for stars in the shape of a staff? If so, there are a lot of possibilities.

I think I'll try heading into Spemin Space next and see if I can abuse some intelligence out of the treacherous bastards and perhaps find this fabled Ancient colony in the midst of a nebula. Does this game ever stop being fun?