Saturday, May 28, 2011

Omega: Low Expectations, High Satisfaction

My current status in the sewers of Rampart. Note that the corridors are thin and long, as you might expect in sewers.

My e-mail exchange with Laurence Brothers, recounted yesterday, had me feeling bad about cheating in Omega. After all, he had a good point: the game is not impossibly difficult if you take care and make smart choices. Allowing myself to save once per level, I caught myself following the letter rather than the spirit of my own rules. Sure, I can't reload after I accidentally don a cursed set of armor, but that doesn't mean I have to try my best against the next goblin chieftain I encounter. Oh, look at that: he killed me. I guess I'll have to reload.

So I started thinking that I should stop backing up my saves. And then this happened:

I was doing nothing more risky than walking down a hallway, when suddenly a hole opened up beneath me and I was--let me quote the game--"killed by warping into magma from the infinite abyss." Huh?

This game was developed in the tradition of Rogue, but a complete game of Rogue, if you don't die, takes only a few hours. Omega is looking like it's going to take days to win, even with backing up my saves. So I once again reject permanent death: I will continue to backup my save files, and you'll hear no more about it.

I played for a number of hours today, exploring both the Goblin Caves and the sewers beneath Rampart. Here are some new developments and discoveries.

  • Ages before Neverwinter Nights would do it for what I thought was the first time, Omega allows you to buy and find trap components, and set up your own traps to ensnare, bomb, poison, pierce, slash, and otherwise kill your enemies. Sometimes, when you disarm a found trap, you can preserve the components and later set up your own--again, just like Neverwinter Nights. Unlike NN, though, Omega allows you to accidentally blunder into your own trap.
  • Occasionally, I find a "Scroll of Hint" that tells me something about the game world. One of them told me that "only a master of chaos would kill all the city guards!" I guess this is a title I could strive for. This game clearly equates chaos with evil.
  • One of the monsters I fought was a "pencil-necked geek." I vaguely remember a song of this title on the "Dr. Demento" radio show in the 1980s, and it turns out I was right. It was sung by Johnny Legend.
  • Another monster was an "etheric grue," an obvious homage to Zork.
  • I found a Wand of Summoning that I figured would summon monsters to fight for me. Instead, they just attack me. One of my more memorable deaths is when I used it and it summoned an Archangel, who in turn summoned three or four more Archangels, and they killed me in one round.
  • There are a couple of helpful teleportation spells in the game. I stumbled upon the Explorer's Club in Rampart fairly late, and was given a spell called "Return" that takes me back to the lowest-explored level after I leave a dungeon and return. Another spell called "Warp" (which I don't have, but have found on a scroll) takes me to any dungeon level. Between the two of these, I can get in and out of a dungeon quickly. Unfortunately, I didn't have them while exploring the Goblin Caves, and it took me forever to get to Level 10 (where the king was) and back.
  • In the Goblin Caves, I found the Amulet of Yendor! I assume it must be a joke, as it doesn't do anything and it sells for 0 gold pieces.

For a moment, I thought I won the game.

  • An awesome scroll I found educated me about all other scrolls. This means I no longer have to identify them. Of course, this isn't a big deal any more because I learned the "Identify" spell at the Collegium Magii.

Hopefully, Jane also published guides to potions, rings, and wands. I don't know what the reference to Jane is, but I strongly encourage you not to Google "Jane's Guide."

  • It turns out the brothel imparts 100 experience points for the 500 gold you spend there.
  • After a long series of progressive raids on the Goblin Caves, I found the Goblin King on the 10th level, killed him, and took his head. A "far-off woman's" voice said, "Well done! Come to me now..."

  • When I returned the head to the Duke of Rampart, he gave me another quest to find a sword in the city's sewers. The Oracle also told me to head down there, so that's what I'm doing next. I've explored nine levels and nothing so far.

How about now that I've proven myself true, a comfortable retirement in the country?

  • The Goblin King had a weapon called the "Goblin's Hewer +6), which does massive damage but is two-handed, so I can't hold a shield.

My character continues to develop. Various scrolls, potions, trips to the gym, and other bonuses have attributes fairly high (my intelligence somehow went from 12 to 19 in a couple of hours without my noticing), and I have some cool items, including a ring of regeneration +7.

I really didn't expect to play Omega this long, but the dungeons are quite large, and for a roguelike of the era, it has an enormous amount of plot. (If it lasts too much longer, I might save the rest for after Pool of Radiance, because I'm really eager to get to that game.) I can't think of many other games for which I had such low expectations ("ho, hum: another roguelike") and such a high level of satisfaction once I actually started playing. What are some of your favorites in this category?


  1. Jane's Guides are a series of aircraft and similar recognition guides that have been around for a long time. You just had to look at the other links: and as an example

  2. I just discovered Omega in the Ubuntu repositories. Thanks for taking the time to discuss it, your posts will help me learn to play. I'm going to be doing a post of my own on rogue-likes soon, and was amused to find that it is available natively for Linux.

  3. I haven't played Omega, only lots of NetHack and DCSS, but I think roguelikes are usually balanced for spoiled players, who have a general idea what kind of equipment or skills are needed to explore a given part of the game world. Instadeath in roguelikes is seldom completely random and unavoidable. For example, in the case of that hole, there could be ways to detect it (A 'detect' skill/spell/scroll? A light source?), avoid (levitation?), control the destination once in, maybe even survive in magma (fire resitance? A 'passwall' spell/item) etc. I don't know what Omega offers in this case, but it probably offers something.

    If you want to play mostly unspoiled, and visit a sizeable part of the game world without spending many months, savescumming is probably hard to avoid.

  4. I haven't gotten very far in any of the roguelikes on my computer now, but I did enjoy SAngband quite a bit. I often forgot to visit the skill screen, meaning I had a good deal of points to invest when I finally remembered. I also did alright in regular Angband as a Rogue, getting Narthanc. I know in the overall game it's not a highly considered artifact, but you couldn't convince me of that when I was kicking previously-impossible amounts of ass with it. Of course, it didn't stop me from diving too deep, burning out my torches, and starving to death trying to climb back up. Oops.

    I also enjoy IVAN in small stints for the sheer morbid joy of seeing what limbs I can lose without immediately dying. Fighting a spider without the aid of my arms is... special.

  5. Kusigrosz, you are probably right that it was avoidable with a few searches or a levitate potion, but using both on every dungeon corridor would be functionally impossible.

    Between "savescrumming" and looking up spoilers, I think the former is the lesser of the evils.

  6. To me half the fun in any game is the graphics. I'm not talking about the latest graphics with bells and whistles on it and so and so many polygons, I'm talking about graphics that makes me wanna own something, some characteristic or trait. If there were two swords in a game and one had slightly better stats but it didn't even look like a sword or anything that I could make sense of and the other one looked like a sword, I would choose the other one. The game is less immersive if I can't even make out what's happening. Although for an independent developer making good graphics is hard, so I understand why the game has to look like this.

  7. I agree. I know that some roguelike fans appreciate the no-frills approach, but I do like at least a base level of engaging graphics.

  8. Yeah, while reloading from saves is anathema to the traditional roguelike experience, it at least is normal behavior for most CRPGs. Walkthroughs and other similar spoiler materials are clearly cheating for both.

  9. Dude Dawg, at the risk of getting into advertising, some years back I did make a build of Omega with graphics shamelessly lifted from Angband - there's a link to it towards the bottom of my home page. All this talk of Omega has made me want to go back to this, fix up the bugs and change the save file logic to something more sensible ...

  10. Angband looks quite nice, I like the look of the map, it's clear what kind of terrain each square is and yet there's room for a lot of squares in one screen shot without getting cluttered, unlike many later games that are filled with too much graphical detail.

  11. Actually Pencil Neck Geek was sung by Fred Blassie, and is usually credited to him (though you are right that Johnny Legend wrote the song).

    Really enjoying reading your experiences with this game which I had never heard of. Like you, I thought it would be end up being a quickie before moving on to POR. I'm glad you're taking the time to really explore it.

    BTW, this is Keir. I keep trying to post comments but even though I am signed in it still posts them anonymously (or not at all).

  12. Thanks for the correction, Keir. That's what you get when you look up things too quickly on Wikipedia.

    I don't know what's behind the posting troubles, but I was having some issues with Blogger until I upgraded to Firefox 4.

  13. Oh those interdimensional interstices! Who among us doesn't know them? Well... that sounds a bit like the ghost of Trebor (or Werdna?) from Wizardry III to me. Random death in a game that can't be saved. Those two mechanisms should avoid each other.

    1. This explains why you don't like Roguelikes. Though a good roguelike should have random events that can be avoided or taken advantage of with enough preparation. Learning the precautions needed is part of the fun of a roguelike.

    2. Well, I haven'd yet said that I don't like Roguelikes. I can see the appeal of permanent death in certain circumstances. But not to have a chance to avoid this death, is just cruel. What's the precaution against a sudden interdimensional interstice?

    3. I find this aspects of a lot of old games interesting: In a lot of them, including tabletop RPGs, the odds were stacked against you mechanically. When you touched the dice at Gygax's table to go into combat, there was a good chance you would die. HP were low, spells didn't do much damage, and monsters were unfair. So the goal was to get as much treasure as you could without going into combat, and if you do then you should do it as unfairly as possible; full wargaming tactics, lots of cannonfodder hirlingings, attacking from ambush, stuff like that. Other games such as BRP and its derivatives (Runequest was the D&D setting for it as I recall) took this even further. Some board games did this as well; Blood Bowl for example, where your players could die very easily, so the goal was to keep them positioned to be safe.

      Roguelikes borrow a lot from this. You don't want to go into a fair fight, as if you die, you are done. You want to throw things at an opponent as they close, have resistances, stuff like that. The entire goal of nethack seems to be to build up a kit of unfair tricks and immunities so that you don't have to fight on the last few levels, as if you do, you die.

      Whereas most modern games are a bit more direct, so that you can tell the odds more, and it is clearer what you can get away with and such. (There are exceptions such as Battle for Wesnoth)

    4. Ha! That reminds me of one of the few tabletop rpg's I've played. I can't recall the name, a friend introduced me to it and I won on the first try. Something about a sci-fi setting, several players try to get something in a spaceship and when they have it, they have to escape or a big death robot will kill them (the death robot was being played by the game master). I won by secretly saving up special cards that allowed me to roll twice for movement, and for healing. Even so, it depended on the last roll of the game master. I was one square before winning when the death robot caught me. But on that last roll, the odds were in my favor and I won. I never would have won if the robot had attacked me for a 2nd round. So indeed, winning depended on a couple of lucky upgrades.

  14. How difficult is it to back up save games in a game like this, it sounds interesting but I really can't take permadeath?

    1. It's really no effort at all. The save game will appear in the Windows folder associated with the game, and you can just copy and paste it to a different folder. You can even write a macro to handle it in DOSBox if you like.


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