Sunday, October 21, 2012

Cold, Cold Dark Heart of Uukrul

The first party didn't do so well.

As I said in my first posting, The Dark Heart of Uukrul is "almost roguelike" in its approach to saves. You get one, and the game automatically appropriates it frequently, including after every combat, every character death, and every time something significant happens. Unless you want to cheat with frequent backups of the save folder, you've got to role-play with the punches. Death isn't exactly "permanent," though, in that upon full party death some mysterious Samaritan pays to have your lead character resurrected. If you don't want to pay for the rest, you can dump them and get a new NPC from the Adventurer's Guild--conveniently located right next door to the Mausoleum.

Left unexplained is why Uukrul tolerates, in his own dungeon, a guild full of adventurers who hate him.

It turns out--and I missed this on the first pass of the manual--that you can "backup" your party every time you visit a sanctuary. If something unpleasant happens after that, you can restore the backup. Some discussion on the board last week suggested that DHoU "purists" regard this as cheating, but screw that: if the game provides it, I'm going to use it. This ends up making the game a little less like Rogue and a little more like Might & Magic, where once you reached a town, you knew your progress was safe.

An important overlooked function.

I hadn't backed up my first party, but we were early enough in the game that I started over, recast my party, and made Plenamujer a little more pious this time. More on that in a bit.

Over the last couple of days, I have made my way through, and mapped, what feels like a decent part of the dungeon. The game comes with a decent automapper, which not only shows the overall contour of the dungeon but also the specific squares your characters have stepped on. You can annotate squares with letters if you want to remember key locations later. But I still find it too limiting, and it fails in certain areas of the dungeon, so I've been making my own maps. In doing so, I'm testing out a java-based Dungeon Mapper created on a whim by reader Pierce Roth. It works pretty well, with keyboard shortcuts to add walls and doors, the ability to paint dungeon squares in various colors and thus track where you've been and where you haven't, and annotation options for individual squares, entire levels, and the map file at large. Pierce has been very responsive to bugs and suggestions that I've sent. This might eventually replace Excel as my default (just in time for tiled first-person CRPGs to disappear, probably).

The same area mapped with the auto mapper and Pierce Roth's Dungeon Mapper.
So far the game has been fairly linear. Numerous up and down staircases defy attempts to organize the dungeon into "levels," but there are definite "areas." Each area might have three or four staircases up or down, but generally all but one lead to a dead-end. Some of them are odd. You'll find a secret door leading to a staircase that leads up to a long corridor ending in...nothing. No treasure, no major encounter. I suppose that's realistic, in a way. I once found a secret room in my attic, but there was  nothing in it.

45 minutes of dungeon crawling to find a crummy commercial?

I continue to enjoy the atmosphere the game imparts as you explore new areas. Almost every major room has some brief description attached to it, and many of the fixed encounters are preceded with some textual introduction. Again, it very much reminds me of Pool of Radiance, minus the adventurer's journal.

Not much has unfolded in the plot, so for now I'll just cover the game mechanics in more detail.

I encountered one more Mara apparition, but I don't know who this old man is yet.

In my first posting, I suggested that I found the combat a little tedious, and I still do, but I have to thank Caron for cluing me in as to the existence of "autocombat," which I had missed in the manual. It's a welcome feature, and I'm using it even in these early stages against rats and other low-level enemies. The AI is reasonably good, and characters will cast both offensive and defensive spells, lay on hands, and otherwise make full use of their abilities. Against uniform enemies, it makes essentially the same decisions I would, but I'm careful to plot my own combats against creatures who can poison, drain experience, or cast spells.

The good thing about combat is that it's not so frequent it's annoying. Each battle feels deliberately and sensibly placed, with rats in caves and orcs patrolling corridors, and undead in dank crypts. You don't encounter them every step; I'd say every 25 or so steps. I haven't quite figured out whether there are "random" combats, exactly; the places that I've re-played, I've encountered combats in essentially the same places (although the foes might be slightly different each time), but sometimes only after walking over the square several times. It appears that there are squares that have a certain probability of combat on each map, but not a lot of completely random encounters. In general, areas I've already traversed remain clear.

The magic system is interesting, but it doesn't give you a lot of choices early on. I'll cover it in more detail in a later posting when I have more of it. Briefly, magician's magic is organized into five classes called "Arkanas": Fire, Frost, Healing, Protection, and Knowledge. Each class has multiple spell levels represented by "rings": iron, copper, silver, gold, platinum, and crystal. Each ring confers one or two spells. At first, I thought you obtained more rings literally by finding or buying them, but it appears you just get them on leveling up. My mage started with iron rings in fire, healing, and knowledge, which gave me five spells: a fire bolt (AMRAS), a fire spell that burns all adjacent enemies (ORLOS), a healing spell (SHUM), a translate spell (NGOS), and light (LUM). Each spell consumes a number of "psychic points."

Killing an orc with my only viable offensive spell.

Priest spells are called "prayers" and are organized among four gods, each with different aspects: Ufthu, the God of War; Drutho, the God of the Underworld; Golthur, God of the Physical Self; and Fshofth, God of the Spirtual Self. As with mages, prayers come in six rings, and there's one prayer per ring. My priest started with the ability to pray to Ufthu for a "divine arrow" (RALKOR) or to Golthur to heal everyone (SIRDHE). Each prayer consumes "virtue points." Prayers are notably different from mage spells in that they're more powerful but often--usually, actually--unsuccessful. There's a decent chance that the god will either ignore the prayer or get annoyed and "smite" the priest for bothering him. Given her lack of piety, this happens to Plenamujer a lot.

Retribution for what? Trying to kill undead?

There is an additional complexity to prayers in that the actual meaning of some of them isn't certain. Plenamujer got iron-level prayers for Fshofth when we found his altar, but the first prayer, called "The Quiet Room," is a mystery. It goes like this:

Fshofth, On the shore of the lost lake,
There is a house. Though the spell makers talk,
It is quiet still. For though chanting sounds,
It will little disturb the air where they dwell.

Does it silence spellcasters? Only experimentation will tell.

Plenamujer finds another god to disappoint.

A few miscellaneous notes:

  • I don't know what most of the stuff in my inventory is. The game suggests I will find a sage who can identify it for me. This appears to be the only way to identify equipment in the game. I keep finding things that seem worthless, like bones, skulls, and shreds of cloth, but I'm taking them anyway, just in case. I also have a bunch of gems that either have some plot-related purpose or I'm supposed to sell them.

Some items that may or may not be important.
  • There isn't a whit of sound in the game. The developers didn't even try. I created a iTunes playlist with every song that has "Heart" or "Dark" in the title. Norah Jones was playing when I started this entry; hence, the title. Yeah, that's right: occasionally I like Norah Jones. I'm sure your libraries are full of nothing but masterpieces of hipsterdom. Jerks.
  • I gave up randomly searching for secret doors because it wastes food, and I was hardly ever finding any. The game often gives hints about their locations, such as this map I found on a wall near the secret door's entrance. Still, I hope I'm not missing a lot for which the game doesn't provide hints.

  • You have to keep a supply of food going in the game. It's expensive enough that it's cut down on my ability to buy better weapons and armor for my people. So far, the only way I've found to get it is to buy it at the one store in the game.
  • Being able to listen at doors is a good idea which is generally useless in practice. I routinely hear things at doors only to find empty rooms beyond, and many encounters are preceded by silence on the other side of the door.

This is the one time that it's helped.
  • There appear to be no missile weapons in the game.
  • I haven't fully gotten a handle on it yet, but I think the game scales experience rewards for combat. Creatures that were giving me 30-40 points at the beginning are giving me single digits now. (My characters are all Level 4.) But even during the same level, the amount of experience I get for combats seems to vary wildly.
  • Humor: I walked into a room, and a message said, "A sign at the end of the room reads 'DANGER!'" I walked up to the sign, and it fell on my head.
  • "Rancid molds" have become my archnemeses. I hate them. They attack in big groups, poison everyone, and are very difficult to kill.

Poison slowly depletes health until it wears off.

  • I hate certain undead, too. They can drain hundreds of experience points, which take hours to build up.

I'm enjoying the game, though I hope I get to a point I can identify equipment soon. In the meantime, I wonder if some of you more tech-savvy people might help with a conundrum. I've successfully increased the size and scaling of my DOSBox window so it's got a proper size and resoultion (800 x 600), but the program insists on taking all of the Dark Heart of Uukrul screenshots at 320 x 200, and they're enlarged to make a decent size here in the blog. But for NetHack, DOSBox takes the shots at 800 x 600, and the blog ends up having to shrink them--which, of course, is better for viewing purposes. Why is DOSBox varying the size of the shots, and how can I get it to consistently use the window resolution?


  1. You could use the build in screen capture in windows. ctl+alt+print screen. The downside being that you have to paste the screen in to Paint and the window frame is visible.

    Or look for some sort of free screen capture utility.

  2. That Dungeon Mapper app sounds fantastic! Would love to use something like that. Also, it will be a huge help with Wiz 6-7, the later M&M games, etc.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Yeah, I was wondering whether the tool was publicly released; I've used a couple of dungeon mappers in the past and they weren't really too good.

    3. That app does sound like a good idea.

      Regarding "This might eventually replace Excel as my default (just in time for tiled first-person CRPGs to disappear, probably)." - I wouldn't worry about that just yet. Tile-based, first person RPGs will remain quite common in the first half of the 90s. Some of the later examples I can think of are Stonekeep and Anvil of Dawn which are from 1995. Of course, as time progresses, the in-game automap function will evolve, some games even allowing you to make annotations.

      Then there's the recent - 2012 - Legend of Grimrock which lets you disable the automap if you want to go "old school".

    4. I don't know the program that Chet is using here, but I managed to convince the author of a similar, also Java-based program to release his source code and have uploaded it here:
      I also have various ideas about improving it, but so far I haven't had enough time. But maybe it would make sense to combine our efforts.

  3. You wrote: 'Priest spells are called "prayers" and are organized among five gods, each with different aspects: Ufthu, the God of War; Drutho, the God of the Underworld; Golthur, God of the Physical Self; and Fshofth, God of the Spirtual Self.' Either you miscounted, or you left out a god...

    1. Forgotten God smites CRPG Addict in retribution.

    2. Yeah, I miscounted. I was thinking there must be a parallel between the five types of Arkana and five gods so I wrote "five" before I actually listed them.

  4. I think that Dungeon Mapper app also sounds nifty!!!! I'd be interested in testing it out. I've always wanted to play Might & Magic I, but I usually get turned off partway through by the lack of any mapping at all. For MM2, I take notes and it all works out, but the mapping by hand is more tedious if I do it in Excel/Calc...and more annoying if I do it on paper because I tend to play in short spurts, and then I can't always find where the kids hid my :)

    So, at some point, I'd be willing to also help test out the mapper app!

  5. I'd like to try that mapper app too, I need a good non-frustrating tool for my mac while playing Might & Magic.

  6. It would be really easy to write an automated batch script in photoshop to resize anything into anything. Do you have photoshop and would you like me to explain how to do that? It's a 'once learned, always useful' skill because it applies to any repetitive image processing task you might later need in life, like resizing vacation pictures or making a whole set black and white, etc.

    1. No, no PhotoShop. I think I'll just give it a try in Snagit for now.

  7. So you hate Rancid Molds, eh? I bet you haven't met Black Orcs and Giant Beetles yet.

    I found the automap to be adequate for most of the game, but some areas I mapped by hand. Especially areas with several levels and lots of stairs going up and down are difficult to visualize properly with an automap. For such complex areas, like the Dwarven Mines in Wiz 6, Hall of the Past in Wiz 7, a certain area in Uukrul and the whole Chaos Strikes Back, I use a notebook where each level is a page directly on top of the other level/map. Makes it much easier to visualize the area, I think.
    I actually find such mapping challenges more entertaining than illogical puzzles.

    I never worked out how the giving of new rings worked, so I just checked in on the magic guild and the various shrines frequently.
    Being able to create food is definitely one of the turning points, when you no longer have to worry about having enough time and money before you starve. Don't forget that prayers, like the one to creates food, is more effective at a shrine.
    With food no longer being a problem you can even go back and search everywhere, if you want to. No being the compulsive completist I was in my youth, I didn't search everywhere, but I know there were at least one place I never found.

    The "Quiet Room" is supposed to be a Silence spell, but I found it was too unreliable, even when the actual prayer was successful.

    Bones, skulls, and shreds of cloth are all useless, I think, or else their effects are not important. You certainly don't need more than one of each, at least.
    The gems are just for making money, I'm fairly certain.

    And it seems like you may not yet have experienced "breakage"?

    1. Kind of a spoily post, eh? You tell him a bunch of stuff he hasn't seen yet. Let him play, for Pete's sake...


    3. Spoilers? Very light ones, in that case.

    4. Yes, my weapons have broken numerous times. I just forgot to write about it. It's a bit annoying. Thanks to you and Sanctus for confirmation on the bones, skulls, cloth, and gems. They were bogging down my inventory.

    5. BTW, regarding Silence, I checked my comments on the Codex LP, and it seems the spell only works on human spell casters and you need the Scroll of Silence to silence non-human spell casters. But it's all a bit obscure, like so much else in DHoU.
      It could also be a comparison of levels thing, although I hope not, since that just leads to the tired old "clever things never works when you most need it, so just go for brute force instead".

      And unlike many other games (like for example Dungeon Master who also hid all numbers), DHoU has never been "dissected" by anyone, so much of the specific data on items, spells and monsters is still unknown to anyone but the designers.

    6. I can't imagine why this game isn't better known. I hope there are at least a few good walkthroughs out there. I'll look it up when I finish.

    7. I guess the reason it's obscure it that it was DOS only, and it hit the market a few months too late without getting advertised.
      It wasn't advertised in CWG, for example.
      A great shame, really.

  8. That mapping program looks pretty nifty. I have a grid based game coming up soon that I need to map. I'm still considering my own program, but if someone's already made one, then I won't worry about it anymore.

  9. I couldn't find any descriptions of settings to change in the .ini file for DOSBox, but I did notice that the (well-regarded) D-Fend Reloaded frontend has built-in scaler options for screenshots:

  10. DOSBox takes screenshots at the native resolution of the game, which can of course vary. If you want to scale them in a batch you don't need expensive proprietary applications like Photoshop, you can also use Paint.NET with this plugin or Gimp.

  11. How I read one of the sentences:

    "Briefly, magician's magic is organized into five classes, called: "Arkansas", Fire, Frost, Healing, Protection, and Knowledge."

    I was trying to work out what spells from the Arkansas class would do - PLOUGH! BAPTIZE!

    1. Yes! I thought the same thing when I was reading the manual. My mind went to swamp magic.

    2. I did the exact same thing. :D

    3. *giggles at length*

      I've misread things like that before.

  12. for screenshots use FRAPS, you can google it, it runs in the background and when you want a screenshot just press an f-key. it also records videos of your gameplay if you want. its free and most pc magazines use it for their screen captures. as for dosbox,im not sure why yours is taking different size pics. mine seems to take shots at whatever the screen resolution is. however i dont mess with it much since i use fraps all the time anyway. hope this helped some. love your blog!

    1. Fraps is not free unless you find a pirated copy. It's only $37, though, and worth every penny.

    2. The demo will let you take screenshots though, just limits what you can film to 30 seconds as I recall.

    3. That's right, Canageek. I forgot about the demo. I think you can film up to a minute of footage, and screenshots should work fine.

  13. I've been looking forward to Dark Heart of Uukrul for a while now. I first read of the game on the Home of the Underdogs many years ago, but I never played. When I encountered your blog my goal was to play some of the games I've missed before or while you got to them, but I have too little free time, and all of that is going to Firaxis' XCOM. Regardless, as always, I've enjoyed reading your posts.

    I really liked the personalities of your party.

    1. Thanks. I know I'm playing in surrogate for a lot of CRPG fans out there.

  14. When using autocombat you must be very careful to check that your weapons or armours haven´t broken or got rusted. That could be really dreadful if you don´t discover it in time.

    1. Yes, that's a good point. I haven't encountered anything that destroys armor yet, but weapons break frequently. Oddly, my characters still seem to inflict fairly solid damage with their bare hands.

  15. Like PetrusOctavianus said, I have neither found any use for shreds of cloth, bone or skulls. The gems as far as I remember was for money mostly, except maybe for the most valuable ones.

    Being poisoned is really tough as long as you lack any remedies (which is quite hard to get if I remember). You seldom have the time to return back to a temple before you are dead.

    1. I mostly deal with poison by periodically casting healing spells on my characters until it wears off. It takes about 30 or 40 turns. I find that the spell point regeneration happens often enough that I can deal with two or even three characters poisoned as long as nothing else (e.g., another combat) causes damage.

  16. Hi guys. This is Pierce Roth, the developer of the featured mapping software. I'm more than willing to include more people in the distribution. I'd like to keep the distribution to around 10, but if you contact me now, I'll add you to the email list for updates. The program is currently in alpha stage, and there are several more features planned, and I'm sure bugs to hunt out. Thanks for showing interest.

  17. Great update, this looks like a great little gem of an RPG I never heard about or experienced.

    As for the mapping program - I think you still have every other gold box game ever other than Pool of Radiance still to play. You will get some use out of the program...

    1. Yes, I was mostly joking, but I had forgotten about the entirety of the "Gold Box" series.

  18. I have no idea who Norah Jones is, but I thought you only liked listening to music when you could focus on it?

    I used WinAmp to make a list of every song I have with heart or dark in them (or both in the case of Heart of the Darklands)

    Rhapsody Of Fire - Heart Of The Darklands
    Glenn Miller Orchestra - Yours is My Heart Alone
    Glenn Miller Orchestra - Goodnight Sweetheart/I'm Stepping Out
    Manowar - Heart Of Steel
    Barenaked Ladies - Break Your Heart
    Dio - Straight Through the Heart
    Dio - Sacred Heart
    Dio - Like The Beat Of A Heart
    Andrew Allen - Where My Heart Will Take Me (Theme from Star Trek: Enterprise)
    Dio - Straight Through the Heart
    Nickelback - Yanking Out My Heart
    Nightwish - For The Heart I Once Had
    MLTR - Take Me To Your Heart
    Dragonforce - Trail Of Broken Hearts
    Dragonforce - Heartbreak Armageddon
    DragonForce - Heart Of A Dragon
    Bachman-Turner Overdrive - Heartaches
    Rush - Summertimes Blues
    Rush - Heart Full of Soul
    Rush - Closer to the Heart
    Bruce Springsteen - Dancing In The Dark
    Dio - Rainbow In The Dark (Live)
    DIO - Rainbow in the Dark
    Hammerfall - Eternal Dark
    Rhapsody - Trolls In The Dark (Instrumental)
    Rhapsody - The Dark Tower Of Abyss
    Rhapsody Of Fire - Dark Reign Of Fire
    Nightwish - Dark Chest of Wonders
    Rush - The Necromancer: Into Darkness/Under the Shadow/Return of the Prince
    Gordon McNeil - Straying into Darkness
    Abney Park - This Dark and Twisty Road

    So, how much overlap between my playlist and yours is there?
    Also; I think I have the most eclectic heart/dark playlist of anyone here.

    1. Lots of metal in that playlist with a dash of Rush. Somehow I don't think there's much of an overlap between metal and Chet's preference for jazz, but I might be wrong.

      Norah Jones is an American musician that seems to be popular in some circles for her fusion of many genres (including jazz), though personally I believe her greatest attribute is that she's the daughter of legendary Indian musician and composer Ravi Shankar. Yeah, I'm being mean right now.

    2. If you have seen how she looks, you may change what you think her greatest asset is.

      I actually like her and I tend to hate pop stuff which she gets classified as. I like the jazz tones with her voice and piano.

    3. I don't think Glenn Miller or BTO count as metal somehow. ;)

    4. Yeah, we don't share a single song. I have some Glenn Miller, but not yours. I have a song called "Dancing in the Dark," but it was written in 1931 by Arthur Schwartz and performed by Bing Crosby. I don't imagine the Bruce Springsteen version is a cover of that.

    5. @Canageek - OK, it's a metal playlist with 4 Rush songs and a few other things to spice up the recipe. With a couple of exceptions, I know the artists/bands you mentioned.

      @UbAh - Oh, I know how she looks. I was just being, as I said, mean.

    6. @Giuseppe (first reply) - Let's try to find some of those overlappings :D

      Frank Zappa has made album "Jazz From Hell",
      Shaun Baxter has labeled himself as Jazz Metal Pioneer and made album "Jazz Metal".
      Then there's (project?) band Heavy Metal Jazz Concepts with album "Heavy Was A Sweater" with couple tracks on Youtube.

      @Canageek - You made me to continue the list
      Iron Maiden: Fear of the Dark
      Opeth: I Feel The Dark
      Ozzy Osbourne: Shot In The Dark
      Testament: Dark Roots of Earth
      Trivium: Grey So Dark
      Brother Firetribe: Heart Full of Fire
      Dimmu Borgir: Metal Heart
      Dropkick Murphys: Peg O' My Heart
      Elvenking: Divided Heart
      HIM: Vampire Heart (on album Dark Light)
      Michael Monroe: Center of Your Heart
      Sabaton: Purple Heart
      Sentenced: Cross My Heart and Hope To Die
      Stratovarius: Eagle Heart
      UDO: Heart of Gold
      WASP: Hold On To My Heart

      But why suffice with those when we have:

      Rakoth: Dark Heart of Uukrul

      Ain't kidding. Don't have that album in person but here's lyrics (might contain spoilers):

    7. To be fair, there have been a fair few rock and metal musicians that have adopted jazz elements into their music. There are even some bands that fancy themselves as being 'jazz metal', which usually means odd time signatures, syncopation, free-form musical passages, etc. But I think I'm delving too deep into the subject for this blog :)

    8. For jazzy metal, check out Cynic. `Nuff said.

    9. I wonder how many playlists we could post before there is some overlap? We should put all these songs into youtube (Well, some of mine won't be up there; Andrew Allen - Where My Heart Will Take Me (Theme from Star Trek: Enterprise) is from a 'Star Trek songs as Smooth Jazz' kickstarter) and make a giant playlist of all the heart and dark songs we have.

    10. Amy: Can you give a link? Common words like that are a pain to Google.

    11. I'm not gonna post a link, 'cause spam filters don't like them, but just search for Cynic - Traced in Air or Focus. Or if you wanna listen to something weirder search for Atheist - Mother Man on Youtube.

      Me, I'm feeling Kind of Blue...

    12. Here's a nice sample of the songs on their first album, Focus. I hate to put labels on it because it pretty much defies labels, but: Atmospheric, Spacey, Jazzy Technical Thrash Metal. I think.

    13. My favourite genre is electrosymphonic death pop.

      Okay so I made that up.

      But it'd probably sound like Pendulum.

    14. @Random Encounter, wow I actually have that CD! I never even realized that was a song about a CRPG. Haven't listened to it in ages but I will definitely be digging that one out to give it a spin.

      @Canageek, quite a lot of overlap in our playlists. I won't list mine as it contains 158 songs, but I will mention that I have an album by a band called Dark Heart.

  19. Thanks for all the comments on the screen shot issue. The #1 tip just seems to be not to rely on the DOSBox capture and use another program. I have Snagit, so perhaps I'll give it a try for the shots. The DOSBox method is just so easy.

  20. The #1 tip is probably correct. If you're interested in an attempt at explanation, the game runs at the resolution you get screenshots at. Increasing the DOSbox window size simply makes the game scale upwards, but the internal resolution is still the same, so the screenshots are small.

    Nethack works with ascii characters at its core, and they increase in size as the window size increases, so internal screenshots work with nethack.

    As several people have said, an external screenshot tool will work fine.

  21. According to the manual, there's a later Knowledge spell that identifies items. I don't think I've managed to use any unidentified item correctly yet, and I've tried probably all of them in tight situations. For instance, I figured that "ointment" must be healing salve, since the icon was the same in the shop and having two of them, it would likely to be a common item. But I tried to "swallow" it and only later realized that, of course, you rub the salve on your skin.

    The tight situations are pretty cool. I've managed to run out of them or gotten lucky otherwise - I got my paladin killed a second time though. The game keeps you on your toes quite satisfyingly.


    1. "It rubs the salve on it's skin or it doesn't regain the hit points."

    2. I don't know if it was Amy's perfect quote or the thought of Eino's characters trying to choke down something the consistency of petroleum jelly, but this thread cracked me up.

  22. Is it just me, or does the priest in the first screenshot look like Uncle Fester?

    1. I was thinking more Curly from the Three Stooges. Nyuk Nyuk Nyuk!!


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