Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Omega: Succumbed to Cheating

The game is not insulting me. My character's name was "Bozo."

Shortly after I began this blog, it took a turn that I didn't expect, and didn't even really notice at the time: I began playing a lot of independent CRPGs. About one-third of the games in my blog (if you count the "backtracking" postings from last July) were developed as what we would now call "shareware."

Independent games tend to lack the bells and whistles of commercially-developed CRPGs, but they often have more intriguing gameplay, as we find with NetHack, and certainly a much greater challenge. But here's the essential "problem" with them, coming from the perspective of someone who has in front of him a task to play thousands of games and is only at Game 56: commercial game publishers have to worry about the market, and so they tend to avoid releasing games that are @#!@%&ing impossible. With independent games, on the other hand, you are often at the mercy of a single soulless, basement-dwelling sociopath. I'm not saying that Laurence Brothers is such a person, but I'm frankly beginning to suspect that he at least was.

[Later edit: the day after this was published, Rampant Coyote did a great job turning my snarky comment into a thoughtful posting on his blog.]

There's so much great stuff in this game that it deserves multiple postings on this blog, but I'm never going to get to them because I can't live long enough. Omega would be pretty bloody hard without permanent death. With's untenable for me to keep playing without cheating.

"Cheating" in this context--in any context, really--is when you subvert the intentions of the game designer in order to reduce the intended difficulty of the game. I can say it's not fair, but Mr. Brothers intended this game to be very hard; if he hadn't, he wouldn't have written the game to delete the save file after you load it.

So: I'm going to keep playing, but I'm going to allow myself to backup the save game file once per map (dungeon level, town, etc.). I can only restore and reload if I die, not if I just don't like the outcome of equipping a particular item or drinking a particular potion. With this limited cheating in place, I hope I can get further in the game and uncover some of its mysteries.

Sitting in a class today, I idly wrote a series of Excel formulas to automatically generate a random sequence of letters for my character name (I don't know any actual programming). The result is "Kibfizma." Kibfizma is going to tend towards the side of chaos. The first thing I had her do, after arriving in town, was break into a house. It turned out to be occupied by a ghost who...well, you need to see it:

Ghosts are scary. Clowns are scary. The ghost of a clown is terrifying.

Yep. It's the ghost of my most recent adventurer. The ghost and a separate haunt attacked me, and the game said I was too terrified to fight, so I went screaming back out onto the street.

Seeking to redeem my inauspicious start, I bashed down the door to a mansion across the street, set off an alarm, was taken to jail, and got probation.

Rampart is controlled by liberals.

Okay. Something new. Next door to the jail was the arena, so I signed up as a gladiator and got a wooden sword and shield and a 5000 gold piece credit at the gym. I entered a match, killed Ebeneezer the Goblin, and won 100 gold.

The paladins called me a "minion of chaos" and told me to get lost, and the castle said I wasn't famous enough to visit the duke. At the casino, I lost two rounds and won one, leaving with about 100 gold more than I started with. Found a pawn shop but couldn't really afford anything good. Found a place that sells and rents apartments for when I have more money. Bought 20 buckets of fried lizard for the road.

One of several guilds to join in the game.

I tried to join the mercenary guild, but it appears that they don't want me since I'm a gladiator. This confirms my previous experience that membership in certain guilds bars you from others. Damn. I didn't want to be a gladiator that badly, but I'll play it out and see where it goes. It looks like the Circle of Sorcerers might have me, but I need to raise 1,800 gold first. Similarly, the Collegium Magii wants 1,000 gold for enrollment.

I wandered into a temple and became a "lay devotee" after praying at a statue of the Lords of Destiny. Bought some ring mail at Julie's. The town is so big that it would be hard to remember where the various stores are, but there's a neat (M)ove command that allows you to return to any facility that you've visited.

Near the temple, I tried a closed door and discovered the Thieves' Guild! That's more like it. I waited a couple of hours until nightfall, when they were open, but didn't have enough gold to join. I went back to the arena, won two more battles, and then joined the guild, for which I got a lockpick and the spell Object Detection.

By this time, I had gained enough levels to visit the palace and get the quest to kill the Goblin King from the duke. I'm being chased around town by a ghost that I picked up in the cemetery. Every time I get close to it, it "terrorizes" me and renders me incapable of attacking until I flee for a few squares. Leaving town and coming back doesn't help. I tried to avoid him to get to the Oracle (who again suggested that I visit the Archdruid) but I found the ghost blocking the path back. I had to cut my way through a hedge to evade him, which poisoned me. The poison nearly killed me, but it wore off just as I was on my last hit point.

I left town and I'm now attempting the goblin caves again. I've risen to Level 4, which is a "peregrinator." I figured this had something to do with a falcon, but I looked up the word, and it turns out "peregrinate" is simply a synonym for "migrate" or "wander." A "peregrine falcon" is named because it migrates over a wide territory. So chalk up another one to "what have you learned?"

All right. Sorry to go into such detail about the town, but it's a good illustration of how much variety is in this game. Here are a few miscellaneous points and questions:

  • What the heck is "grot"? I keep finding it, but if I use it it doesn't seem to do anything.

Occam's razor: I'm probably just picking up piles of garbage.

  • The game has a "(T)unnel" command that lets you carve holes in dungeon walls. Sometimes you do this to avoid something blocking a passage, sometimes to get to some treasure, and sometimes just to make a shortcut. Tunneling creates rubble, and there's a chance you'll get injured or stuck for a few turns when you try to cross it.
  • Among the many commands I've yet to try in the game: cast a spell, pick someone's pocket, "vault over a few intervening spaces," rename an item, set a combat "action sequence," or hunt for food. This game is very NetHackian in the complexity of its uses of commands and uses of objects with each other.
  • You can eat corpses in the game--I just ate a goblin--but it doesn't seem to have much of an effect. It didn't even cure my hunger. The next time I found a corpse, I picked it up and try to throw it at my next enemy, but the game said that the goblin "didn't accept my gift"--I guess if you hurl a non-weapon at a foe, the game treats it like you're trying to give him something. Interesting. I wonder what uses it has.

The game is full of references to other media, half of which I'm probably not getting. Here's one that I do know, even though I dislike this show for purely irrational reasons that I'll discuss when I get to BattleTech (there's a connection):

Now, here's some exciting news: One of my readers, Eugene, gave me the current e-mail address for Laurence Brothers, and Mr. Brothers has been kind enough to share some of his recollections about the development process. (He didn't know I was about to refer to him as a "basement-dwelling sociopath.") I've never interviewed a CRPG developer before, so I'm probably asking all the wrong questions, but assuming he's okay with my publishing his quotes to the world, I'll have some more information for you tomorrow.


  1. I love reading your posts on Omega. I stumbled across that game a long time back and had a great time with it. I do remember having troubles with it crashing way back when but there was so much to it I just kept digging around.

    Unfortunately I never really got very far with it but there was something very compelling about it.

  2. Grot could be a misspelling of "groat," a kind of generic medieval coin.

  3. Grot was a slag term from nethack and other RPG's for intentionally useless items like empty jars or broken swords. Omega was either lazy or ironic by just calling it grot.

  4. Old... dusty memories... bursting forth...

    The command vault over a few spaces is VERY useful. It allows you to do things like bypass a few squares of water or lava or get away from someone chasing after you.

    The attack sequence command lets you chose to attack or block high/middle/low. Some enemies always attack or block high/medium/low so once you learn that about the enemy you can get an edge in combat adjusting your sequence. A rat, being low to the ground might always attack and block low. If you set your sequence to attack high/ block low you will almost always hit and block.

    Spells are HUGE and very important. Easiest way to get them is to pray before an altar. Odin is offensive and lawful. Athena is subtle and lawful. Hecate is subtle and chaotic. Set is offensive and chaotic. Druids (requires going to druid grove outside of town) offer a LOT of spells but also requires staying neutral. Lords of Destiny give no spells. Offer things they like on their alters and you will rank up. I cant recall what sacrifices they like... usually valuable things.

  5. Throwing "food" to an animal might tame it. Throw a steak to a wolf might make it your friend for instance... Apparently a corpse is food which is why you got that message.

  6. Once you get to about level 8 or 10 you character becomes quite durable and will likely live a long time...

  7. Damn you, other CRPG Addict. Reinstalled Omega after all these years. "brew install omega" on OSX apparently...

  8. Presenting the...

    ***CRPG Addict Unofficial Pseudorandom Name Generator***


    Generates a random string of letters, 3-11 letters in length, and forces a vowel at least once every three letters.

  9. I really like these daily updates.
    thanks a lot for my early morning crpgaddict fix (I think I'm becomming a crpgaddictaddict)

    As for the cheating part.
    If you believe you can deliver more information about a certain CRPG by cheating, then I find this a good justification.
    Especially with these unfair permanent death rpgs.

    Cheers, Rob.

  10. Omega looks pretty interesting. I'll admit that I've never actually played a roguelike of any sort, but many of them sound like they'd be engrossing. Maybe one of these days if I feel like devoting months/years to an ascii based game...

  11. I think grot is just British slang for garbage.

  12. I think you should present the Lords of Destiny with Grot! See if it offends them and they curse you in some way!

  13. Game sounds cool in that you can do many different things like breaking down walls and stuff.

  14. I sure veteran roguesters feel differently, but I don't understand the competing design decisions to create this very rich, interesting world and then to have insta-/perma-death everywhere. As you say, it's one thing in rogue-likes where there's no plot; even where there's a plot, like in ADOM, there's not much to the game other than how, and when, you die. But I can't understand why you'd go through the sophistication of having a court that sentences you to probation, and then kill the player for walking through a hedge.

  15. It's all there to make the deaths funnier.

  16. I have been reading this blog chronologically and I just reached MM2 when I saw you have been playing omega!

    I had to jump ahead and comment on how awesome this game was back in the day when I played it and that I have such fond memories of it. I dont know how well those memories would survive a playthrough now but I am anticipating the time I catch up in your blog to read your experiences with this (it should be soon at the pace I am going through your blog instead of working).

    One thing I still remember was the opening intro if you play as yourself has a unix shell :-) I wonder if that somehow influenced my young life enough to be a reason why I am a unix administrator now.

    Anyway I must go back and finish reading your old posts so I can catch up to this one and finally read it! (I haven't read this post I just came to do my OMG omega comment)

  17. Wow, a lot of old games seem to be rather challenging, I havn't played any crpg myself, but I've seen someone play WoW on youtube and it certainly didn't look challenging. Games seemed to have more depth in them back in the day. Maybe the problem is that much of the "depth" in early games were really ridiculous stuff that would be hard to accept in a more realistic setting, if you throw gold down a bottomless pit to somehow gain "experience" it seems perfectly fine if the graphics are bad, but try the same scene with real life graphics and it would look silly. Well I just wanted to say that I have now finished reading this blog up until the present day.

  18. Omega sure looks intriguing, but it's true permadeath seems out of place in such a complex world... yet again, maybe I'm just not made for roguelikes.

    Congratulations on tracking the developer, it will be fun to read the "interview"!

    Meanwhile, I've started to play PoR based on all the great expectations you guys are raising (I never played any gold box games before). It definitely looks great, it's a good thing you are still spending some time with Omega, I'll have a head start before your "spoilers" kick in.

  19. Couple of quick notes (BTW, Omega is IMHO one of the best games ever designed - a great example of what you can do within the limits of a genre):

    - This is a game which encourages risk ... IIRC it's a core feature that goes hand-in-hand with the permadeath. It makes sense of permadeath in a way that modern games fail to. e.g. even at level 1-5, you can take huge risks that are 95% likely to kill or maim you, but have a small chance of making you powerful. e.g. if you're lucky enough to step into raw chaos *and survive* you can step out with a bunch of permanent superpowers.

    - Play as yourself, and lie outrageously
    - ... it'll work out you're lieing, get sarcastic, and punish you
    - ... so use a little trial-and-error and find out the limits of "acceptable" lies
    - ... and it'll make the game a lot less punishing in the start, because you'll be smarter, tougher, faster

    - EVERY action in this game has an effect on your alignment; I looked through the source code at one point, and found that even things like "Talking" to creatures had an alignment effect
    - ... e.g. try playing a Paladin
    - ... if you go around killing monsters, your alignment goes chaotic, and you get thrown out of the guild
    - ... so WTF do you do to be "allowed" to kill things? Preach at them before you kill them! (alignment stays good if you do this...)

    - Disrupting things (via spell or rod) is massively powerful

  20. still think you need the updated omega that has colour ascii tiles

  21. Laurence quit working on Omega ages ago. It's been worked on quite a bit since then, having had a lot of code cleanup and some attempts at new quests and the like, but development stalled a few years back. is where you can get the latest version, which if nothing else has bugfixes and the like.

    (I'm one of the lesser developers.)

  22. Huh, you can't pelt the ghost with objects or knives while running away like I do with floating eyes in Nethack?

  23. In Australia we use Grot to imply dirt or dirty. Thus, if someone is grotty, they look dirty.

    Not sure what it is like in other countries.

    So.. I'm guessing you are just picking up dirt.

  24. Having just watched a guy massacre a Pools of Radiance walkthrough on the interweb I'm looking forward to a talented writer doing it some justice.

  25. There are several ways to win Omega. One way is to save up 50,000 gold and buy a condo and retire. Another way is to defeat Death in battle and then become one with the void and emerge an Adept.

  26. Addiction endangering my work schedule... found reading the Omega source code to be a decent methadone/alternative. Faster than actually playing the game thru to the end.

  27. OK I'm supposed to work but I figured I'd rather read that interview with that game developer who made Omega, but I guess it's not up yet.

  28. Wow. I take one day off and I come back to one of my most commented postings ever. Briefly:

    "Grot" appears to be just trash.

    All the tips I got from anonymous commenters were excellent: combat sequence, throwing food, vaulting. Thanks! The once exception was the suggestion that I present the Lords of Destiny with garbage. Thanks a lot. Adam, I also appreciate all your hints. They add a lot to my understanding of the game.

    Karnov...I don't know what to say. Much appreciated. But my first few characters were named Puqfjurfepg, Crafjgokci, and Khewc, so I think it may need a little work. (The thing I did in Excel didn't actually generate names; it just randomized the order of the alphabet in eight adjacent columns. I didn't literally take the top eight characters, but rather chose the first letter in each column that went phonetically with the preceding letter.) Nonetheless, next multi-party game after POR, I'll use it to generate my whole party.

    Stu, can't find one. Are you sure your'e thinking of a DOS version? Rick, I didn't understand the file extensions in the one you sent me.

    Dude, I really spoiled you with daily postings the last couple of weeks, didn't I?

  29. Rick C when was this being actively developed last? I looked for a version of omega years ago and only found a version that ran (net very well) in a small window with monochrome color. I ran into trouble with the makefile and I have had to much to drink to bash my head against it, so I will give it another try after I sleep.

  30. CRPG Addict: Haha, yeah, I bashed it out in a few minutes in Python. I went ahead and made one that actually accounts for Phonetics though, with a [pseudo-]GUI and an easter egg!


    It generates 19 names at a time, based on 11 templates [ex: nasal + vowel + fricative + vowel + nasal], one of which is set up to be a sort of guttural Orcish sounding template.

  31. Now you're talking! I love the way you re-did the header. Some good ones from the first batch I ran:

    Xes Zurga
    Zeph Zirmage

    Shouldn't be MY name on the thing, though.

    Still trying different keyboard commands and clicks to find the Easter egg.

    I'll use it and link to it in my first game after POR. You get a character there.

  32. Awesome, I'll be updating it from time to time.. I've already added a bunch of new stuff.

    F1 - Now brings up a Change Log [with my name!]

    Instead of one column of 19 names, it's now two columns of 16 names, for a total of 36.

    You can, of course, click "Generate" over and over if you don't like any of them.

    After you generate the first batch, a Save icon appears, that will dump the current batch of names [and template numbers] to a text file in the same folder.

    Added another Easter Egg!

  33. You bring up a point about independent games often being harder than commercial games. Being an independent developer myself, I've often thought about this and I think the reason for this is simple: developers play their own games, both for the enjoyment of it and to test them. But they're coming at the game with the advantage of very intimate knowledge of all the odds, what is possible and what isn't, etc. It makes the game a little easier for them than for newcomers, and they ramp up the intensity to keep it at a level they find fun to play.


  34. Sorry for taking so long to respond--I couldn't find where I'd gotten to this post until now.

    I haven't actually been to the sourceforge site in several years, and now I don't see any downloads except opcurses, which won't be of use. If you're feeling adventuresome, you could pull from CVS, but I wouldn't bother. Your best bet is to probably go here and get, and compile with the makefile, making sure to set CFLAGS = -DMSDOS -O
    and CPP as appropriate. We did some cleanup of the makefile--IIRC ultimately the MSDOS macro was being retired in favor of WIN32. the 0.90.4 version should compile. There were a couple of later builds on sourceforge, but we were in the middle of some big refactoring, so I think the version I just gave you a link to is probably the lastest buildable one. IIRC development efforts petered out around 2000, and there was another burst in '03 or so. I was making a big push to get rid of global variables, but I wasn't quite finished with it, and I ran into some problems I never 100% worked out before I got too busy again.

    TBH it's probably in a state you could almost call complete; we were doing a lot of code cleanup/refactoring, adding new quests and the like.

  35. the "exterminate....exterminate...exterminate!" screenshot is a reference to the Daleks, a group of evil mutants from the TV show Dr. Who


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