Thursday, May 10, 2012

Sentinel Worlds: Careful What You Wish For

Even in a science fiction CRPG, I end up fighting rats.

In my last entry, I suggested I was looking forward to a possible fusion of science-fiction and fantasy. Well, the game certainly took a turn that way, although I'm going to reserve judgment on how good it is until the end.

When I last blogged, I was starting to explore the three towers on Caldorre. They were a bit of a disappointment. They were quite large, but mostly empty, and each held essentially the same things: a weapons store, a general store, a bar, places you can train your statistics, and an exclusive club. Except for the clubs, they were all fairly redundant. I was looking forward to some quality conversations with NPCs, but in three towers, I only found two NPCs (not counting the generic ones). Neither of them gave me any clues about the main quest. I did pick up one bit of intelligence that humans hadn't build the towers; they'd "been there forever." There was also a suggestion that the native Caldorrians used to be technologically advanced but had regressed, which is why I guess I found them living in grass huts.

Wow. You are just an enormous font of helpfulness.

As I said, there were "clubs" on the bottom floors of each tower, and entry required me to have 20 of a favored attribute: charisma, dexterity, and strength. Fortunately, at least one of my characters had 20 in each of these, so I was able to get in. But near as I could tell, there was nothing to do in these clubs except raid their armories.

Don't I look charming, dammit?

The good news is that training costs $1,000 and increases attributes by 1, so it doesn't look like I'm going to run out of reasons to make money.


I had about $9,000 to blow when I arrived, so I trained a few stats and stocked up on new weapons and ammunition. I found a fairly good melee weapon called an energy blade, so I kept my lead character armed with it and gave everyone else firearms. Oh, and I wasted $2,000 bribing one of the NPCs to tell me that the raiders must be sent by "one of Grager's enemies!" I'm not sure it was worth $2,000.

"Duh," the crew replied, before killing Kann and retrieving their two grand.

Without much sense of what to do next, I returned to space and continued destroying raiders. About this time, I noticed that in addition to giving me locations of convoys under attack, the "federation" message center also suggested quests. One scrolling message said that the "federation recommends boarding of raider ships to interrogate raider crews." This sounded sensible, so I started focusing my efforts on boarding. I found that the reason I got slaughtered the first time was because doors kept closing between my lead character and the medic, so I learned to order the crew members in such a way, and approach the enemies in such a way, that the medic was always within reach of the person at the head of the line.

While I haven't gotten anything out of a raider yet, exploring their ships suggests that they only have short-range capacity and there's alien technology on board.


I stopped dying, but I still had trouble getting any raiders to surrender. My crew just killed them. Finally, one of them surrendered long enough for me to ask one question before he chewed up a cyanide capsule.

Why did he even bother to surrender?
 
After a few more futile boardings, I gave up and went to Ceyjavik on a report that there was a distress beacon. Exploring the area, I found a science research station with a dead man named Eckirrt Kann outside; it seems like nearly every NPC in the game is named Kann. Anyway, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I expected a quick quest like the one on Caldorre last time, but I ended up taking a six-hour slog through several science station buildings, the science station headquarters, an undersea lab, a submarine, and an endless series of volcanic tunnels.

References to films continue.

Throughout all of them, I was assailed by the fauna of the underground: ice tigers, giant rats, fire lizards, and things called "green dragons" that were fairly tough. By the end, I was thoroughly sick of the game's melee combat. Enemies spawn and re-spawn continually even when you're sitting still, and moving through the corridors became a real chore. Particularly annoying is that combat is automated for all but the lead character. If four out of my five characters are going to blast away under the computer's control, what extra good does it do to force me to watch one weapon's readiness status and hit ENTER continually?

"You can drink your fancy ale. You can drink it by the flagon..."

Even against tough creatures, combat isn't terribly deadly--that is, unless you get out of range of your medic. Then, it's nearly instantly deadly. When he was in range, he kept up with healing the damage of even the toughest monsters. This makes combat primarily an exercise in positioning. As long as he could reach anyone under attack, I wasn't in much danger of dying, even when most of my characters ran out of ammunition and the battles were entirely up to those party members in hand-to-hand range.

I almost felt bad killing this one. He's so cute!

There might have been around 20 different featureless, repetitive dungeon screens in this quest. Among them, I found only one NPC: a woman named Virginia, hiding in a closet, who imparted a little bit of information about the submarine. The game didn't give my heroes any choice but to just leave her there, surrounded by prowling tigers.

She sounds so broken up about it.

At one point, I wandered into a goofy "Electronic Arts FunMap!" (helpfully marked as "not part of the game") that might have been a facsimile of the EA offices. The enemies were marked as "EA Roudies," which is either an embarrassing spelling error or some kind of in-joke. One of these days I'll do a posting on games that break the fourth wall, like Ultima II's inclusion of Richard Garriott. I can't think of too many games that have entire dungeon levels based on the developers' offices. Might & Magic VI comes to mind.

There's nothing so tiresome as people who think they're being clever.

So here's where it got weird. At the end of the volcanic tunnels was a room containing some kind of object called the "Key of Thor." When I spoke to it, it claimed to be a "creature of light" and went on for several paragraphs about what I'm guessing is the main quest. It sounds like it may be kind of stupid, but at least it explains the game's title.

The dialogue could frankly have been written a little better.

The summary--and I think I have this right--is that there was a race of beings called Sentinels (hence, Sentinel Worlds) who were "keepers of the light." The Sentinels "found" the Key of Thor on some distant world, "many aeons ago." Wherever the Key came from, there was another being like him in whom the light "shined darkly" (yeah, figure that one out), so the Sentinels destroyed it.

The Sentinels, led by someone named Kedro, later took up residence on Earth. One of them, named Malcolm Trandle, turned evil and "began to treat the poor primitives who lived on that world as cattle and playthings." Malcolm made an army of those Earthfolk and overthrew the rest of the Sentinels. He stole Kedro's book of spells and the Key of Thor and brought them to the far ends of the galaxy, hiding the Key deep in the planet where I found it. Malcolm then took up residence on Caldorre because he sensed an ancient power on the planet, manifested in the three towers, which are powered by a generator of "dark light."

Kedro and some of the Sentinels came looking for the Key, but Malcolm "dealt them a blow that left them helpless, their minds confused forever." The Key bade me to find them so he can restore their minds. Then he offered this:

The Sentinels have the power to wield the light just as you do. On Earth, the name the people gave to it was 'magic.' Have you heard of it? You have it in you, but you clearly do not have the knowledge to wield it. Kedro does. The Sentinels do. The light can let you mend people, it can let you change their nature, it can let you confuse them or strip them of their knowledge. It is the only way Malcolm can be defeated.

I can't quite figure out if the story is supposed to be referencing some event on Earth's history or mythology. Are the Sentinels supposed to be the Greek or Roman gods? (The "Key of Thor" would suggest a connection to the Norse pantheon, but I don't see anything in "Kedro" or "Malcolm Trandle.") Is Malcolm Trandle Satan? Is the Key supposed to be some artifact from history and I'm just not making the connection? Either way, this little twist has the potential to be interesting or staggeringly silly. We'll see.


47 comments:

  1. I never figured the Key of Thor as having some mythological connection. In fact, I've always wondered why it's called that. I do love the whole "dark light" aspect. "Join the Dark Side™," anyone?

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    1. It's a pretty dumb name, then, isn't it? I mean, so far the reason it's called a "key" of anything isn't clear, and it just makes it more confusing to append the name of an existing deity to it.

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    2. SPOILERS ABOUT ONE OF THE BEST MOVIES EVER MADE, IF YOU HAVN'T SEEN THE HULK MOVIE FROM THE 80'ties STOP READING. I remember watching an early Hulk movie, in it there's another protagonist who doesn't have any super powers of his own. Instead he has the power to summon Thor with a hammer that he found deep in a cave on the North Pole. So if there were many icy creatures like polar bears and such, and I realize that this is a big stretch, but perhaps it pays tribute to the Hulk movie?

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    3. SW borrows names from myths without deeper meaning. Like club names at Caldorre. There was Vainamoinen (Finnish) and Sky Elk (Native American). Don' t remember third one.

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    4. My notes say it was the Vylkka Club. A Google search seems to suggest that it's a name given to a lot of dogs (or one highly-publicized dog), but all other references are from SW.

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    5. Actually Google finds in mythologigal/religious context Vylkka in book "The Concept of Movement in History of Religions: A Religio-Historical Study of Reindeer in the Spiritual Life of North Eurasian Peoples", but it's ethymology doesn't interest me THAT much to pay the price JSTOR asks. So my guess it's based on some sami myth - They have loads of -kka ending names.

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    6. Thanks for finding that! It's a fairly obscure reference, but you never know what coffee table book the developers had at hand.

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    7. I have JSTOR access if you want to give me a link; I'll look up what I says about this god.

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    8. Thanks! Here it is - www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/3269697

      Ain't what the word is referring in to but ain't for sure czech tibetan terrier.

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    9. And of course you'd give me this on the night my libraries computer isn't working right. *sigh* Remind me and I'll do it at work tomorrow if someone else doesn't get to it first.

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    10. "One last group of masters of reindeer breeding we shall consider is that of the great masters who supply men with their herds. [...] It is in the form of a saga told by the Yamal Samoyeds about the
      "Victuals-bestowing Grandfather" [...] and the adventures of the cultural hero Vylkka."

      However, this article is about as well written as the game, and they then state "On the one hand, it
      would be possible to summarize the "essence" of this particular master in a few sentences by tabulating the extent of the resources of his
      wealth, etc., but on the other hand, as soon as one would do something of that sort the whole flavor of the saga would be lost leaving us with
      little or no idea what this master was all about. The essence of narratives is always in their telling." and gives me too pages of non-English text with no explanation, rendering the article useless to someone not fluent in the language of the Yamal Samoyeds.

      The tale does open with "Vylkka, der Fanger von Riesen und Waldwesen," if anyone speaks that language, whatever it is.

      The name is repeated many times in that story, but not again outside of it.

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    11. Oh, and that is the only reference to the name on JSTOR, at least that the (horrid) search function finds. I'm wondering if one of the writers was a scholar in that field, had access to an obscure book, made up the name or misspelled it?

      I mean really, really obscure. JSTOR has just about every humanities journal on it as I understand things, and there is *one* mention.

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    12. Thanks. Apparently I was wrong about sami myth, but following the trail of samoyed mythology took to "Larousse World Mythology" where is stated "The Samoyed Yuraks believed in a huntsman, Vylkka, who went to the giants in the North to get them to improve hunting conditions, for the Samoyeds had 'lost their luck' and were in danger of dying of hunger for lack of game."

      Well.. That's definitely obscure as it could get.

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    13. I think this is the most awesome thread since I started this blog. Scholars in the future will be citing these comments. Bonus for such scholars: Proper APA style is:

      Canageek. (2012, May 16). Oh, and that is the only reference to the name [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/2012/05/sentinel-worlds-careful-what-you-wish.html

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    14. I wouldn't know; I've never used it. I mostly use ACS (American Chemical Society) format, or MLA when I take history classes (And all through high school).

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    15. Who on earth at those cultures you mention as well; I've not heard of them.

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    16. Quote from Canageek: "Vylkka, der Fanger von Riesen und Waldwesen"

      This is actually german. Correctly it would be "Vylkka, der Fänger von Riesen und Waldwesen" what means "Vylkka, the catcher of giants and forest beings".

      I have found this link : http://goo.gl/APkbP8
      Which means that this is out the mythology of the Samojeden (Finnic?), written in a german dictonary of mythology from 1965.

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  2. Fallout 3 actually featured the Bethesda offices, if I remember right. No employees though.

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    1. I think Chrono Trigger had the developers in one of the endings or something. Also, in Terranigma, there is a town that is supposed to be Tokyo/Japan, and I think some of the developers are there.

      Of course, these are both JRPGs, with Terranigma also being an action RPG.

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    2. There's a similar room in Final Fantasy 4, with the developers both as NPCs you can talk to and as random battles. It was taken out of the first English translation (as FF2).

      --Eino

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    3. In Star Control 2 one of the NPCs tell you that he's been busy playing a very interesting space simulation game where you gather resources and so forth. So basically he's telling you that he's been playing Star Control 2. In Minecraft there are some people who build their own houses, but I'm not sure if that counts as breaking the fourth wall. More like building the fourth wall, assuming your house has four walls. Duck Dodgers frequently breaks the fourth wall when he makes a prediction based on the dramaturgy of the movie ~'We're in a predicament, but usually a plot twist ensues in which the hunted becomes the hunter.' (Not an actual quote, but something similar)

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    4. Ceyjavik also held Kosaka's Guns & Ammo.

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    5. The final boss of DOOM II was the brain of one of the employees. You couldn't SEE this without using a cheatcode though, you had to fire through a curtain at him from an elevator.

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    6. John Karmack? He does have quite a formidable brain.

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    7. Imagine becoming a zombie in the future and having to fight against the brain of Steve Hawking! That's what I call action, maybe it could be mixed with some science fiction as well and star Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, Jim Carrey would play the Joker. Are you following me? Good, because then Lincoln would jump out of a painting and start chasing vampires. Maybe I should go to Hollywood with my ideas.

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    8. And of course the Pokémon games let you wander into Gamefreak's offices and see them making the game. Not sure how they're still making the game whilst you're currently playing through it... One of them refuses to give you spoilers about how the game ends, I remember.

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    9. Which one was that? I don't remember this from Blue, but it has been a lot of years.

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  3. I know this game is highly regarded by some, but to me it seems a jumble of half-decent, poorly implemented ideas pasted together with an incomprehensible plot and crappy writing.

    But that's just what I can gather from the Addict's posts.

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    1. That's pretty much the impression I have at this point, too. Out of faith to all my readers who raved about it, I'm remaining optimistic until the end.

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    2. There are some weird elements to this game, but I really do (or did) enjoy playing it. There may be some nostalgia factor here though. If you hadn't played it back then, playing it now may be kind of boring/stupid/etc. Plus, I'm a sucker for science fiction, and there just aren't enough RPGs of that genre.

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    3. Okay, Amy. As someone who's played the game: WHO THE HELL IS THIS TAYLOR WOMAN AND WHAT IS HER PROBLEM?! I'm leaving my house to take a walk or something because I'm dangerously close to looking at spoilers.

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    4. All I'll say is that Taylor is not a good person. You'll meet up with her at a different place and circumstance than the "Western Town" at some point.

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  4. I played this years ago, but I gave up partly through because the melee combat was tedious and I hate quickly re-spawning monsters even if combat is otherwise fun. The re-spawns destroy any sense of accomplishment.

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    1. I'm having precisely the same reaction.

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  5. PetrusOctavianusMay 11, 2012 at 8:17 AM

    It sounds like I made the right decision in not including this game in my own chronological play list.
    It's really sad how many CRPGs were marred by poor combat and/or encounter design. :-(

    But we'll always have the Gold Box games. :-)

    And the upcoming game on Chet's list - Star Command - has pretty decent combat.

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    1. I'm actually looking forward to playing it after SW for the contrast.

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  6. I must say, Chet, when you make a comeback you make a COMEBACK. Wow. Maybe you ought to quit your blog and destroy your laptops more often (quick answer: NO). I loved your vid with the talking in it- do you have a job where you talk to people? If not, you should because you not only have a good speaking voice but you are very engaging as well (quick answer: RHETORIC).

    As for this game, oy vey- gevalt ish mir. Maybe this one too I can avoid (quick answer: YES). Glad you're playing it though, and glad that you are posting so frequently upon it. Maybe I shouldn't get used to the postings, but for right now I am basking in the radioactive glow of your blog (quick answer: LYMPHOMA).

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    1. Thanks, William. My job does require me to teach and give presentations a lot, but I've never thought I have a very good voice. I don't think anyone thinks they have a very good voice, though.

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  7. Cool stuff on this page. I dig it.

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  8. When you're back exploring dungeons and mapping them could you give a try to this tool someone is making?

    It could work better than Excel :)

    http://mapper.gpfclan.net/

    It's in HTML5 and at the moment works only on Google Chrome, if you want to try it.

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  9. Looks like the "Reply" comments aren't working on this posting for some reason. Amy, I was TALKING about the second time you encounter her. You think I was that upset about her NPC dialogue in Western Town? I'm utterly stuck trying to get past her.

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    1. Oops, sorry. I thought you were trying to get a successful dialogue going with her in the town. You're quite near the end, IIRC. What I did was use all long-range weapons, hit her once, then turn tail to one space below where she can see you (and vice versa). Then the healer can quickly heal, and then just rinse, repeat. Alternatively, I've heard of others using spells to confuse her or make her forget her skills. I have no idea how well that works, though. Good luck!

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    2. Yes, that was the only solution I could come up with, too. I had to reload LOTS, though. I don't like it when a game forces me to save scum, though.

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    3. I know it's been six months since this was posted, but thought I'd chime in on the final encounter with Taylor.

      In regards to using spells on her, it works almost too well. She goes from being probably the most difficult encounter in the game to utterly harmless with one successful cast. Ouch.

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    4. I thought I tried all the spells and they didn't really have any effect on her. I'm not going to fire up the game and try it again, though.

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