Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Might & Magic II: Won!

"One of the most accomplished game players around!" You read it here, folks.

The ending of Might & Magic II raises all kinds of implications that we must discuss, but for now, suffice to say that I've saved CRON.

Before I go into the specific endgame steps, I'll point out that thanks to a comment from Ziad, I picked up a final quest before the end of the game. It involved going to two previous centuries, killing the ancestors of Lord Haart, and retrieving artifacts from each of them. This was worth 250,000 experience. I had found clues on dungeon walls as to their locations. Neither was hard to kill.

It takes guts to send someone back in time to kill your own ancestors.

As far as I can tell, this quest and giving King Kalohn the Orb are the only reasons to time travel. I tried going back to the first century to see if I could catch the elemental wars, and to the seventh century to see if I could see Kalohn defeat the elemental lords in the Dead Zone, but no luck.

Thanks also to Ziad's hints, I know the Circus only appears late in the year, and I don't need the attribute boosts enough to wait around for it. I also declined to finish the dragon caves, mostly because I was on a roll and wanted to finish the game tonight.

Now, on to my issue at Dawn's Mist Bog Cavern. The solution was so idiotic that I hate to write it. When I first hit upon this solution, I actually thought I was cheating--exploiting the way the game deals with NPCs to avoid finding the "real" solution. But, nope, it turns out this is, in fact, the "real" solution.

Ready? I had to give the Orb to an NPC, "dismiss" the NPC from the party, and go pick him up back in town. How much sense does that make? If my PCs couldn't get out of the cave with the Orb, how did the NPC manage to do it? At least MM2 isn't alone in this foolishness: in Baldur's Gate II, your NPCs always manage to find their way back to the Copper Coronet no matter how remote a place you ditch them.

With the Orb in hand, I took Lord Peabody's time machine back to the 800s and returned to the location where King Kalohn fought the Mega Dragon. This time, my arrival actually did some good:

Would it have been too much to show a cut scene of this "epic battle"?

Returning from the ninth century ("returning" simply involves resting until you get kicked back to your own time; I guess time travel is a temporary condition), I visited the Luxus Palace Royale and found King Kalohn on the throne instead of his daughter. Hell, for all I know, he doesn't even have a daughter in this timeline.

But if he's king, then who sent me back in time?

Below I've pasted a video of the part of the endgame described above. It bogs down a bit in the middle because I got attacked by a horde of goblins. I tried to show some other features of gameplay, such as inventory and mapping, at the same time.

Square Lake is just outside Middlegate. It was inaccessible until Queen Lamanda named me the "chosen one." It's a very linear dungeon, greeting you with this sign upon entrance...

...and throwing a tough combat at you every 15 steps. I got through it without too much difficulty, although I had to flee combat a few times and raise dead characters five or six times. After about 15 combats, I made it to the final corridor. I was greeted by 66 devil kings, who "bowed down" to me as the "chosen one." The game gave me the opportunity to attack them, I guess as a kind of last epic battle, but I declined.

Devil kings also show up again in Might & Magic VI. They don't bow, though.

Beyond the Devil Kings was my old nemesis from MM1: Sheltem. He was surrounded by some other demons and devils, but he went down surprisingly quickly.

Apparently, Sheltem had been up to some mischief, because beyond the battle was a computer monitor that informed me CRON was about to collide with a sun. I stopped this using the WAFE password that King Kalohn had given to me.

But WAFE only got me into the computer. At that point, I read Sheltem's message and got one of the most unique end-game challenges I ever experienced:

That's right: not only a cryptogram, but a timed cryptogram. I didn't even notice the "timed" part until it was too late. I was messing around taking notes for this entry, and by the time I got to trying to solve it, I only had three minutes left. Moreover, I had absolutely no idea what the thing was asking of me. How does a cryptogram have a single-word "answer," and what "code" is it looking for?

Ultimately, I figured it out: the game wanted me to spell "Preamble" using the cryptogram's own code. But to do that, I would have to crack the cryptogram first. I couldn't do it in three minutes and CRON was presumably destroyed just after I was.

I reloaded and fought my way through Square Lake again, resolving to use the full 15 minutes. It turned out that I didn't need it. "Preamble" had put the preamble to the U.S. Constitution in my mind (for my non-U.S. readers, most U.S. high school students end up memorizing the preamble at some point), and I realized almost immediately that this was the preamble to the U.S. Constitution ("We, the people of the United States of America, to form a more perfect union..."), but with "United States of America" replaced by some other five character word (represented above as "Gqlli").

So to render the word "Preamble" in code, I simply had to find the first letter of the third word ("people," as in "We, the people"), the letter that corresponded with the third letter in "perfect", the second letter of "We," and so on. Getting it right produced the screen at the top of this entry. I got enough experience to raise my characters to around 75, and the game let me continue playing. A return visit to Kalohn showed that the game world did acknowledge my victory.

Okay, let's ponder the implications of what we've learned. CRON, like VARN in Might & Magic I, is actually a space ship. The winning screen says that I saved "CRON and all of its VARNs," so the VARN (Vehicular Astropod Research Nacelle) must be a part of a CRON (Central Research Observational Nacelle). CRON had been created by the "Ancients" to populate a distant planet, and it looks like we've just arrived.

What is the name of the planet? Well, it's contained in the cryptographic preamble above. "Gqlli," based on the other letters, resolves to "Terra." And Might & Magic III is subtitled "The Isles of Terra." Pretty cool!

But none of this makes sense. If the Ancients created CRON, then what is the relationship of the elementals to the Ancients? The game's backstory (covered in the first posting) isn't simply mythology: I've been to the elemental planes and battled the elemental lords. Did the Ancients create the elemental lords? Are the Ancients the elemental lords? "Terra" is the Latin word for "Earth"--am I supposed to have just witnessed the original population of Earth?

Even more mysterious, the same elemental planes and lords show up in later Might & Magic games set on different worlds, but it's pretty clear to me that in this game, the elemental planes are part of CRON.

Also: how, precisely, did I get from the VARN in MM1 to CRON? How do we explain things like magic and undeath in the context of science fiction? How did King Kalohn know the password to the computer in Square Lake? Was my time travel just limited to this CRON, or could I have traveled back to meet the Ancients? Who, precisely, are Corak and Sheltem? Are they Ancients?

I'd see if any web sites answer these questions, but I don't want to see spoilers for later games (I played III-V so long ago I barely remember them). Feel free to discuss in the comments. In the meantime, I'll put my GIMLET together.


  1. It said Sheltem was from the planet Terra... how he got on your ship and got the ships codes let alone on your VARN I have no idea... hmm.. Apparently you are going to spoil his race in the next game. Woot!

  2. Bloody hell. I got so wrapped up in the cryptogram that I ignored most of the message that preceded it. Now this makes even less sense.

    So...Sheltem's invasion of VARN in the first game, and his activities on CRON in the second, were all part of a plan to ensure that the colony ship arriving at Terra wouldn't pollute his planet's gene pool?

  3. You could argue he has a very fair point, considering the apparent legions of monsters and so on that are on-board CRON.

    Consider the ecological impact!

    Did you ever experiment with the time machine by the way? Did it allow you to go anywhere else? It made me think of the time machine in Space Quest IV, where there's a hidden code to get to one of the planets in SQ3.

  4. There was something about "beaming down" in the message, so I'm guessing that the CRON doesn't descend wholesale onto Terra, but rather the population (presumably just the humanoid one) takes advantage of transporters. Though I can't see why intelligent monsters wouldn't jump on in, too. And what happens to CRON after that--does the computer just fly it into the sun, killing all the remaining acid blobs and phase spirits?

    I played around with different eras in the time machine, but it appeared to me that the only things to find in the past were those things that the game had given me specific coordinates for: the two ancestors of Haart, Kalohn's battle with the dragon, and Castle Xabran.

  5. The elemental planes and lords and the magic fall under the same justification: magic is an integral part of the Ancients' technology, and/or if you're a fan of Arthur C Clarke's third law, what you perceive as magic is the effects of the Ancients' technology, so advanced you can't comprehend its principles, only its effects. Note that if you think about it both views technically are the same idea.

    So the explanation obtained by just adding that idea to the mythology is that the ancients spawn artificial, traveling, "bottled" ecosystems by technomagically generating the four elements and letting them mingle and battle, and then put (or also create?) humans in them, to carry them to distant planets they wish to populate.

    You got from a VARN to the CRON through... the gates to another world, at the end of the first game! Teleporter or maintenance shaft, it's not certain, but Cron and its Varns travel as a whole (once again, not sure if it's a single modular spaceship or something like a fleet with a mothership) and there are means to circulate through that whole.

    Other explanations related to the grand experiment of the ancients, and the whole Sheltem running around thing, I will leave untouched until further steps in the M&M saga.

  6. Consider this: Sheltem is not a villian, but a hero of his people! He has braved first the VARN, then the CRON, vainly attempting to stop an invasion of his planet.

    Sheltem is the chosen one of Terra, you are the vicious invaders...

  7. You've convinced me, Chevluh: when my sorcerers and clerics were casting spells, they were simply (and unknowingly) giving commands to an army of nanobots.

    I actually outlined a fantasy story a few years ago that would use this theme. The basic premise was that a handful of 21-first century Americans suddenly found themselves transported to a fantasy world in which magic was real, but breaking down. Only slowly is it revealed that the world is a future Earth and the "magic" is really the effects of nanobots (as well as other technologies embedded throughout the world) that were developed before a general societal collapse. To restore the failing programming, the central computer searched back in time for the DNA signature of the original programmer and "copied him forward" in time so he could repair the program, but it turned out that the programmer was a frequent blood donor and the computer's routine ended up grabbing a bunch of hapless people who had received his blood. Yeah, it needed a little work. And then someone told me the whole magic-is-really-nanobots thing had already been done.

    Your other explanations are sensible but, I think, but if this is what the creators intended, they made it needlessly obscure.

    I wonder if there are any games that do anything for real like what Lame Brain suggests: you spend the entire game thinking you're liberating your people or fighting an invasion, and it turns out you're just an ignorant jackass who has now doomed an entire world to destruction.

    1. There's at least one, a PS3 game, but that revelation is a spoiler, so I rot13'd the name.

      Vg'f gur FdhnerRavk / Pnivn tnzr AVRE, naq frzv-frdhry gb Qenxratneq, naq gur Wncnarfr fhccyrzragny zngrevnyf tb vagb qrgnvy bs rknpgyl ubj fperjrq gur jbeyq vf jura lbh "jva."

    2. It's not (remotely) a CRPG, but bizarre indie gem Hotline Miami plays with this idea of whether your actions are for good, evil, or really anything at all.

      The game throws the ideas of intrinsic and narrative motivation at the wall, along with the spectacle (and repeated act) of hyper-violence and at least three entirely unreliable narrators, and asks you to see what sticks (mostly viscera).

      I can think of a few more examples, but as Chuck says above me the revelation is almost always a spoiler (Hotline Miami is so obtuse as to be unspoilerable so I think I can get away with mentioning it by name).

    3. It seems a plausible explanation. I'm not sure about such explanations previous to this. A Japanese manga that came out the same year has a similar explanation, except it's an Ancient satellite that hears the command phrases and sends the appropriate energy down.

  8. I fondly remember sending in my scores to the "Hall of the Ancients" as it was called in some of the games (New World in Van Nuys). They always sent a certificate back with your score (at least the early ones were signed and/or forged by Jon Van Canegham if I recall correctly).

    As an 8-10 year old (for MM1/2) that was very satisfying.

  9. Some enterprising person should start a site where you can submit your "won!" screens from old CRPGs and it will mock up copies of the same certificates and send them to you as PDFs.

  10. Re: "Preamble" had put the preamble to the U.S. Constitution in my mind (for my non-U.S. readers, most U.S. high school students end up memorizing the preamble at some point), and I realized almost immediately that this was the preamble to the U.S. Constitution.

    This kind of riddle is really frustrating, IMO, especially as we are dealing with a game from 1988, i.e. before there was internet and Google. How would any non-American ever know the answer to this riddle (unless he/she was an exhange student or something)? A puzzle should be fair and this is a text book example of an unfair puzzle, where you need to possess specific cultural info to solve it. Oh well, just venting here, don't mind me...

    1. My feelings exactly. I am one of the biggest fans of the early MM franchise, and JVC, but the ending of MM2 stumped me. As a Canadian, I couldn't figure it out, and so I never finished MM2.

    2. Recognizing the plaintext only makes the cryptogram easier. It's perfectly possible to solve it via standard English frequency tables.

  11. Well, a non-American could have solved it the long way, by solving the cryptogram...although I'm not sure how possible that is in 15 minutes. It doesn't have a lot of common words. I don't do many cryptograms--are there any experienced solvers who can give their opinions about how hard that would be if you solved it straight?

  12. You don't really need to solve the cryptogram in 15 minutes. You could take an hour to solve it once and then reload and try again.

    Regarding solving it, well, not too hard I think. "q" is most common with 18 occurences compared to "x" with 12 occurences. So "q" is probably "e".

    _e, __e _e___e __ _e___, __ ___e_ __ ____ _ ___e _e__e__ _____, e________ ______e, _____e ___e____ ___________, ______e ___ __e ______ _e_e__e...

    The second word consists of three letters ending with "e", could that be "the"? In that case a two letter word beginning with "t" can only be "to".

    _e, the _eo__e o_ Te___, __ o__e_ to _o__ _ _o_e _e__e_t ___o_, e_t_____h ___t__e, _____e _o_e_t__ t________t_, __o___e _o_ the _o__o_ _e_e__e...

    It's already starting to become quite readable. A five letter word starting with "Te" and an initial capital, where have I seen that before? *looks towards the top of the screen* Oh, "Terra".

    _e, the _eo__e o_ Terra, __ or_er to _or_ a _ore _er_e_t ___o_, e_ta____h ___t__e, ____re _o_e_t__ tra______t_, _ro___e _or the _o__o_ _e_e__e...

    "people", "order", and "more" are fairly obvious.

    _e, the people o_ Terra, __ order to _orm a more per_e_t ___o_, e_ta_l__h ___t__e, ____re dome_t__ tra____l_t_, pro__de _or the _ommo_ de_e__e...

    "perfect" really stands out and finding "f" also gives us "of" and "form":

    _e, the people of Terra, __ order to form a more perfect ___o_, e_ta_l__h ___t_ce, ____re dome_t_c tra____l_t_, pro__de for the commo_ defe__e...

    After this it's pretty easy. "common" and "defense":

    _e, the people of Terra, _n order to form a more perfect _n_on, esta_l_sh __st_ce, _ns_re domest_c tran___l_t_, pro__de for the common defense...

    "in", "establish", "domestic" and "provide":

    _e, the people of Terra, in order to form a more perfect _nion, establish __stice, ins_re domestic tran__ilit_, provide for the common defense...

    "union", "justice", and "insure":

    _e, the people of Terra, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tran_uilit_, provide for the common defense...

    The final letters aren't needed to spell "Preamble" but it's fairly obvious that the final words are "We" and "tranquility".

  13. You are correct, except that the cryptogram code changes every time you re-visit the location. And even if you could solve it in your off-time and return, you have to battle all the way through the final dungeon again. Finally, I'm not sure how intuitive it is that the ANSWER to the cryptogram is to spell "preamble" in the cryptogram's own code.

  14. Addict, the fact that the code changes every time is only a slightly tougher wrinkle. Since it's just a substitution cipher, once you work it out one time, all you need to do is create a key between the translated version and the version you worked from. Next time you get there, you can quickly use the current version--knowing how it translates--to create a mapping to English. To use your screenshots, the first time, I know that "Bq" is "We" and the second, "Yv" is "We". q->e->v, so it should be--assuming you can write fairly quickly--pretty easy to work out the letters you need.

  15. Fair enough. I don't know why I even mentioned that. Having to go through the final dungeon again is a lot more of a pain in the neck.

  16. "I wonder if there are any games that do anything for real like what Lame Brain suggests: you spend the entire game thinking you're liberating your people or fighting an invasion, and it turns out you're just an ignorant jackass who has now doomed an entire world to destruction."

    Sure. The game is called "Grand Theft Auto."

    Har har har!

    (yes, I know that's not really the plot of GTA)

  17. It's a shame you never went to the Dragon Caves. There's a spot there that gives each of your characters 1,000 permanent hit points!

  18. Just finished this game and I must say that solving the timed puzzle at the end was more nerve wracking than any fights!
    Totally unfair to us non-Americans of course, but then MM2 has it's fair share of unfair momements, like when you encounter 15 Orc Gods, each with 50K HP, or 80 Wizards (high level mages with a Speed higher than any of my own characters).

    1. Ahhhhhh :) back when games were a challenge and not a hand holding A.D.D. simulator

  19. So where does the player come from? Golgafrincham?

  20. hehe Mr Schulz. I wonder if anyone will read back and understand that reference.

    1. I sure didn't, until I just looked it up.

    2. Hey, that makes two of you! So it was not in vain.

    3. I think you need to be a very specific type of high level nerd to recognise it. Which sadly, I appear to be :(


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