Saturday, May 21, 2011

Game 55: Omega (1988)

Within about 10 minutes, Omega went from being a game that I was going to blow through to get to Pool of Radiance to a serious contender for the most intriguing discovery since I started this blog.

This quasi-roguelike was written by Laurence Brothers, apparently while he was at the Rutgers University Department of Computer Science (that's where he wants me to send his check). It's "roguelike" in its basic appearance, with ASCII symbols representing the game world and its denizens, its use of upper- and lower-case keyboard commands, and its permanent death. It isn't a roguelike in its complexity. This is a game with multiple dungeons and villages, quests, guilds, shops, locked and unlocked doors, alignments, dialog with NPCs, houses you can burglarize, and a ton of other features I've barely scratched.

Exploring a small village and talking to a guard.

Where the game really won me over was the option, at the beginning, to create a character or "play yourself." This is the most original character creation process I've seen outside Ultima IV. The game proceeds to ask how many pounds you can bench press, what you got on an IQ test, what percentile you scored on graduate and undergraduate entrance exams, whether you have training in martial arts or play a field sport, whether you can dance, what your other hobbies are, whether you're "accident prone," whether you "play video games" and, if so, whether you get high scores, whether you can cut a card deck with one hand, whether you get sick frequently, whether you smoke or have high blood pressure, and a host of other questions. My favorites were: "Do animals react oddly to your presence?" and "Do you have ESP?" The game also wanted to know, for some mysterious reason, whether I'm Irish.

After you answer, the game has you sucked into your computer a la Tron:

I don't want to reveal too much about myself, but suffice to say I got an intelligence of 15, a constitution of 14, strength and dexterity of 11, agility of 10 (I shouldn't have said I was "accident-prone"), and virtually no magic power--this is the first CRPG to punish me for being an atheist. Statistics matter, as I soon found out with another character:


If I had known that my first character would last only minutes, I wouldn't have spent so much time creating him, though. The game is mercilessly lethal. Within the first few hours, my handful of hapless adventurers had died by trying to crawl through a hedge, drowning while crossing a small pond, accidentally attacking a guard, rupturing a hernia while trying to lift a portcullis, starving, getting blasted by a priest the moment he walked into an abandoned temple, falling from a mountain, getting brained by a "ricochet," and half a dozen other ways. Half of the time, I'm not quite sure why I just died.

What is that supposed to mean?

The game starts in the City of Rampart, a large town with an arena, a jail, a palace (I am told to return when I am famous), several guilds, a library, an apartment building, a casino, a Colosseum, restaurants, shops, a Department of Public Works (where you can "go on the dole" if you're poor enough), a bank, a cemetery mansions to burglarize if you feel like it, a poor house where you can donate gold, and lots of other buildings I haven't explored.

Orgullous joins a mercenary legion.

My first character, Orgullous, joined a mercenary guild and got a short sword and some leather armor; entered a match at the Colosseum and defeated "Federico the pencil-necked geek," winning 50 gold; bought a suit of chain mail at a shop called Julie's; bought some fried chicken to take on the road (exploring the wilderness requires a lot of food), and got killed a few steps after he stepped outside by a storm.

Fighting in the arena.

My most successful adventurer, Cauthon, joined the order of paladins, who decided he was good after he donated some money to the orphanage. They gave him a spear and a horse to ride. He bought some armor at a shop, some food, and headed out. Within moments, he got stuck in a "chaos storm," which had killed one of my previous characters, but Cauthon survived it. The game told me this was a "learning experience" and advanced Cauthon several levels. A weird voice on the wind said, "The Eater of Magic can be found on an island." I wandered east, having to eat every few steps, and then suddenly, in a forest, something cast a spell that caused me to go blind and I was killed by a brigand.

Outdoor combat on the "tactical map."

Aside from the overall peril, the most difficult part of the game is the inventory, which is divided between stuff you can carry or wear and your pack. Transferring stuff around is a bit cumbersome. When you first pick up an object, it is "up in the air," and you can determine whether to put it into your pack or equip it somehow. If you put it in the pack and later want to use it, you have to first take it from the pack, after which it returns to "up in the air," and then put it in your "ready hand." This translates to about eight keyboard commands just to eat a piece of chicken.

The second difficulty is that I really have no idea what to do. In my explorations of the outdoor area, I've encountered a couple of villages and a temple, but no hints as to the main quest or even side quests. The game documentation says that there are a number of ways to "win" and that consulting the oracle is a key to one of them, but I haven't found the oracle yet. Hints (but light hints) from anyone who's played the game would be welcome, 'cause I'm getting slaughtered here.

Still, I want to fully explore this one. I realize that the later versions of NetHack transcend what is normally thought of as the limitations of a "roguelike," but this is the first game that has really made me feel it's possible to create a full and interesting world without anything we'd think of as "graphics."

My new character, Steevil, is created, and I'm going to try to make it alive long enough to explore the Goblin Caves the manual insists are just south of the starting city.


  1. This is a seminal roguelike. It introduced all kinds of stuff including a large outdoor area, a "plot" and several other things to the roguelike genre.

    The source code is available on sourceforge. There was a project to update it a few years back, but I haven't heard anything on that mailing list in years.

  2. When you get to a dungeon let me know if the levels stay the same after you leave & return to them. There seem to be two styles: Nethack style persistent levels and Angaband style randomly generated ones. The later seems more common due to the fact it is much easier to code, however I find it much less satisfying.

  3. I played this one back in the day but gave up before getting far. I remember some cute (but not useful) things: There's a funny message if you try to talk to an animal. Also, I think it's possible to get "struck by a cosmic ray" and die if you walk around at 1hp.

  4. Oracle is in Rampart. Good luck.

  5. Whether you're Irish? Luck of the Irish, perhaps? :D

  6. The one hint I can give you is that there's a specific item that makes it a lot safer to wander around in hedges, and that the movie version of Day of the Triffids is a big hint about what it is. That's just about all I remember about this game.

  7. Join one or more of the guilds in the town before you head out. The way the XP system works, you have general XP that gives you HP and such, and then you have guild-specific XP that's the general XP split between all the guilds you're enrolled in, and those give you spell levels, bonus abilities etc. All the guilds aren't located in the starting city, and some of them don't like it when you join some others.

    When you head out, a good start is a dungeon to the southeast from the starting location. Jumping in the sea can help you too.

    The brothel is useful. So are all the various training options in the starting town.

  8. Steevil? Are the rest of the Black Hands going to be joining him in the future?

  9. Thanks for your tips, everyone. They're helping a lot.

    Canageek, I can confirm that the game randomly generates dungeon levels the first time you enter them. After that, however, it seems to remember them; although the game manual warns that this will only work for one dungeon at a time.

    Eugene, I just found the Oracle in the middle of a hedge maze. Thanks.

    Stephen, I tried talking to an animal, and the animal handed me a PhD treatise explaning that animals lack vocal cords to talk. No lie.

    Jonothan, I had to Google your reference. Pure coincidence--I named the character after a friend of mine.

  10. It is part of the roguelike genre that the majority of the levels have to be randomly generated so that it is more fun to replay it.

  11. "It isn't a roguelike in its complexity."

    Where I come from, the whole point of roguelikes is their complexity!

  12. Well, darn. I'm almost disappointed that you're not a kotdt fan ;)

  13. I played Omega ages ago, and just stumbled on your blog Googling for it after it came back into my mind for the first time in years. If I remember right, once you've gained an XP level you can go back to the Castle, and then the Duke will ask you to kill the goblin king. At that point the goblin dungeon appears on the map.

  14. Cauthon joining a Paladin Guild? Surely you jest. Rouges guild maybe but certainly not a paladin...Couldn't resist the WoT reference...I'm trying to catch up.

    1. Yeah, I wasn't role-playing that one very well, was I?

    2. Well, Mat would also fit in the mercenary guild being a very able general himself ;) Keep those WoT references coming, it's a great series regardless of what some people critisize about it's length, I thought the rich characterization to be awesome and one of the main strongpoints.

    3. I was disappointed by the final book. I thought the previous 13 had set up more mysteries and potential plot twists than the final book was able to deliver. It was particularly disappointing because I thought Sanderson had done a fantastic job with the previous two.

  15. This is one I remember playing! The first one in your list besides Ultima III and IV (which I played on the NES).

    I didn't last long before fleeing back to Moria, which has slightly less punishing tactical gameplay.

    I've tremendously enjoyed the first year of this blog. Your willingness to engage with these games on their terms the way we all had to back in the day, your self-deprecating sense of humor, and your comfortable writing style shine through even back then -- I'm enjoying comparing the current EoB posts.

    1. Thanks! I've recently started to re-read my blog from the beginning myself, and I've noticed a major change in tone from when I started. My later posts tend to treat CRPG playing as if its a job rather than something I'm doing for fun. I've been trying to re-capture some of that enthusiasm as I start 1991.

      On the whole, though, I think my later posts are much better. I have a much greater scope of knowledge about the genre now and do a better job describing the whole game. I cringe at how uneducated and naive I sound in some of the early ones. I just re-read my first post on Phantasie in which I re-affirm my "DOS Only" rule and complain that other emulators are too hard. I want to go back in time, grab 2010 me by the lapels, and scream in his face, "THEY'RE NOT THAT #$@#%! hard!!!"

    2. And he'll probably say, "Yeah? But at least I'm having more fun than you. Muahahaha... By the way, any tips on the market in 2015?"

  16. Omega was my absolute favorite Roguelike when I was a kid. I was 9 or 10 when my dad downloaded this from whatever local BBS and installed in on our PC to keep me entertained.

    It's really quite a deep game. I think 9-year-old me, without a nintendo or other "user-friendly" game system, adapted quite quickly to the awkward interface and inventory system, as well as the various rather ruthless death mechanics. Knowing how to back up your saved game was quite helpful.

    There are quite a few independent quest series to explore. If you visit the Duke of Rampart, he'll tell you to bring him the head of the Goblin King. Bring him that and he'll ask for the Holy Defender, which can be found in the possession of the Wyrm, located 20 levels below the city sewers. These quests continue until you travel to different Astral planes and bring him the Orb of Elemental Mastery, at which point he steps down and you become Duke.

    There are 7(?) different religions to join, at least 6 different guilds (wizards' college, sorcerers' guild, thieves' guild, mercenaries, arena, paladins, and mercenaries), an alignment system, etc. etc. Not to mention half a dozen separate dungeons. The complexity is on par with the modern Dragon Age games.

    Still... there's no Win screen. I've done absolutely everything in the game, including survive the Adept's Challenge, in which you literally fight Death himself. (Every time you kill him, he keeps popping back up, stronger and stronger; the only way to win is to jump through the void). Which I've since read is the equivalent of winning, but in the actual game it just deposits you in the wilderness to continue slogging on.

    In short: complex, flawed, maybe my favorite game ever?

    1. I think to beat Death you have to kill him with his own scythe (he drops one every time he's killed).

      Played this so long ago, think I did everything there was to do, which was a lot. The hardest part is starting out and knowing where to go. I think the mirror in the Ramparts garden area tells you what task you should do next.

      For the first dungeon, I think there is one in the garden. The sewers?


  17. What I love about Omega is that even after you complete the Adept's Challenge (I have a cheat sheet somewhere to do it the easy way), you can still die in a thousand horrible ways, like being disintegrated, starving, or having your life force drained. You have near god-like power, but, In Omega, even gods can get killed..

  18. I love Omega! Just wondering...I see your screenshot is of Omega 0.71. I can't find either it or 0.75 in an executable. Did you compile from source?

    1. No. I don't even know how to do that. I just Googled and found an executable somewhere. If you're still having trouble finding it, e-mail me and I can .zip you my version.


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