Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Dark Heart of Uukrul: Angry Dialogue During Clash of Blades

This dragon was awesome. I'm sorry I had to kill him.

I tell you, I'm in bloody heaven. The Dark Heart of Uukrul gave me a crossword puzzle--a crossword puzzle!--in the middle of a CRPG! Have I told you I'm a crossword fanatic? I compete in the American Crossword Puzzle tournament most years, and I do several a day. I like to look up anything I got wrong, or stuck on, in Wikipedia. That way, I learn something eclectically new every day. Anyway, thanks for keeping it a secret. Not since Might & Magic gave me a Soduku-like puzzle have I been so impressed with a dungeon level.

Walking through the crossword level.

I recognized what it was almost immediately. My map of the level looked like a crossword puzzle grid (albeit not a symmetrical one, and with weird numbering), and when I stepped in certain squares, I got clues. This is how it laid out crossword style:

Now, more than a crossword, this was a cryptic crossword, more the style you'll find in The Times of London than The New York Times. Cryptic crosswords are much harder. A regular crossword might cue an answer like "NOSTRIL" with "A breathing hole" or, if they wanted to be cute, "A hole in the head?" A cryptic crossword would cue it with something like "Passage beneath a bridge." Cryptics involve much more lateral thinking than regular crosswords.

Assuming you can't read them in the image, these were the clues in the crossword in the game. I'll explain the annotations in a second:

(1) Weak loud backward liar [double definition, addition, anagram]
(2) Within or inside itself [obvious]
(3) Sounds like bread is being made, want some? [double definition, homophone]
(4) mythical monsters become tiresome [double definition]
(5) The infinite ethereal plane contains many small bones [hidden word]
(6) Sing out, but keep your mouth closed [cryptic definition]
(7) the avenger is moved to carve two points where the dead lie [anagram, addition]
(8) A keen joint [anagram, but with no cluing word]
(9) the tree before and after the fire [cryptic definition]
(10) Conditions important when walking less than twelve inches [double definition]
(11) Gives up a short recess to get a word in [double definition, addition]
(12) covered with cold wet spikes [this one isn't a cryptic, though it's not a common word]

The first one I got was probably the easiest: 9-down. Think about it: "The tree before and after the fire." Here's a picture of Will Shortz while you solve it.

ASH, right? It's a type of tree and it's what you have after you've burned a log of it.

Whoever designed this was familiar with cryptic crosswords and knew what they were doing; they used a lot of the conventions of cryptics, including multiple different types of clues. Briefly, there are 8 different types of clues you find in typical cryptic crosswords:

1. Cryptic definitions: These are the easiest and most common, consisting of a single definition with a hidden twist. They are common in American crosswords, but usually cued with a question mark at the end to let you know the constructor is having some fun. In cryptics, they appear straight: "Texas flower" becomes RIO GRANDE once you realize that "flower" isn't a plant but something that flows.

2. Doubled definitions. Here, you have two definitions in the same clue that resolve to a single answer. "Seductress's alarm" becomes just SIREN and not something like SIREN'S SIREN.

3. Anagrams. These are tough to identify because you have to be on alert for the types of words that the constructor uses to alert you to the anagram; words like "change" or "alter" or something similar. "Lease renewed by painter" becomes EASEL. Sometimes the anagram is a simple reversal, in which case you might see a clue that contains some variant of "around" or "backwards." "Protege sent back to sketch" would be DRAW (i.e., from WARD).

4. Hidden words. Like anagrams, these depend on finding the right cue words, which are often something like "hidden" or "within." "Weapons found in a farm stand" resolves as ARMS.

5. Homonyms. You have to look for clues like "heard" and "said" for these. "Insects that run, in speech" has to be FLEAS.

6. Broken words. In these clues, the constructor gives a separate definition and then a combined definition as concisely as possible. QUESTION might be cued as something like "Pursuit (QUEST) of charged particle (ION) leaves us wondering."

7. Addition and subtraction. Here we add letters and bits of words to make new words, usually cued with "loses," "gains," "adds," and so forth. "Lights go on when Massachusetts college gains weight!" might be BU+LBS = BULBS.

8. Really obvious answers that trip you up because you're looking for something cryptic. "Simply stated" might be, in fact, STATED.

Now, if this doesn't sound complicated enough already, the constructor might combine types. "Man juggling pins takes a sharp left to get his roots" combines an anagram (cued by "juggling") and an addition (cued by "takes") to get TURNIPS.

Now, if you're shaking your head wondering what the hell I'm talking about, I understand. I need to say this: this is insane. I do these types of crosswords--much bigger ones--several times a week, and it still took me a while to puzzle through this one. If I had encountered this as a 16-year-old in 1989, with no Internet (and no handy grandmother), it would have infuriated me. It almost certainly would have been the end of the game (although if there are truly more than 6 hearts, and you don't need them all, I guess you could skip this area).

I did ultimately get them all, but some of them only because I'd filled in a few letters from other clues. It took me a couple of hours, and fortunately these were hours in which I had no power (and thus Internet access), so I couldn't have cheated even if I was tempted. I'm still a little confused about part of 7-across. Which ones can you get? Put your answers in the comments--and don't be lame and look them up somewhere.

Answers opened doors.

But the crossword wasn't the end of the puzzle on this level. Not by a long shot. At the end of each of the "words" on the map--both across and down--was a secret door, and the answers were the passcodes necessary to open the doors. Inside each secret area was an image of something like "four diamonds above three squares." There were 12 such images in all, all containing diamonds and squares, but in varying numbers and sometimes with squares above diamonds.

Messages elsewhere in this dungeon area had told me that the key to answering a code was to use the symbol mentioned first if the diamonds outnumbered squares and to use the symbol mentioned second if they did not. A second message indicated that I was to ignore ties, of which there were three. So in the end, I had a string of symbols that went diamond-square-diamond-diamond-diamond-square-square-diamond-square.

If I didn't want to do the puzzle, I could have tried all 512 possible combinations until getting it right.

Inputting this message into a control panel in the south of the dungeon got me access to a new area, where I encountered a dragon guarding one of the hearts and a valuable chalice. Here's the best part: all of this puzzling actually makes sense in-story. The dragon turned out to have a vice for intellectual puzzles, such that when Uukrul gave him one of the hearts to guard, he went rogue and reconfigured the dungeon area specifically as a puzzle for adventurers to solve. Isn't that cool? Most of the time, you encounter weird messages and odd puzzles that are nonsensical in terms of the story.

Note that he's breathing fire while talking to me. For dragons, there's no distinction between debate and combat.

The dragon was a tough combat, and I died a few times. I ultimately won through a combination of a spell called RESEN that negates magic (otherwise, the dragon casts something that stuns you every turn) and the priest's RALKOR prayer. It was enough to get my characters to Level 10. They now have four of the stone hearts.

Uh, that didn't look like "ice" he was breathing a minute ago.

At the northern tip of the diamond was another puzzle of sorts. One of the messages in the chronicles of the Circle of Mages had told me that:

The mirror within the diamond carries the promise of Eriosthe's future. Uukrul has cast a dark vision upon it which portends only doom. The fair image must be awakened, though I know not how.

Indeed, when I arrived at the location, I found a mirror with some "dark images":


The solution was an interesting one, and I only hit upon it because I had just been reminded by Canageek to read the manual thoroughly. As part of my reading, I made a list of spells in my notepad so I could better remember them. There was one priest prayer, KUURAOTH, that I couldn't figure out what it did for the life of me:

Fshofth, hark at the kauri branch, a bird dips:
Takes honey from the silvered flower, and stops
Troubled by a dark mirage, far in the forest
Your glass will shatter the foundations of the dream

I had written "huh?" in my notebook, but when I came to mirror I remembered the phrase "troubled by a dark mirage, far in the forest," and I gave it a try. Sure enough, it cleared up the image. Light shone through the clouds, the figure in gray disappeared, the tower turned to dust, and a panel opened beneath the mirror, rewarding me with a "kauri plaque." I don't know what it does for me, but Mara assures me that it's "significant."

Sagaris told me that the kauri plaque "bears a prophecy from Areth. He wished to be the ruler of Eriosthe and enter the throne room of Aldron's palace," so I suppose that's where it gets me. Incidentally, Sagaris continues to be a wise-ass while identifying equipment for me:

It turned out to be a plain leather cap that sold for 16 gold pieces. Jackass.

I'm not sure if the KUURAOTH prayer has any possible uses elsewhere in the game. There are a couple others like this--and one mage spell--that suggest they might exist solely to solve puzzles. I'll write more about the magic in an upcoming posting.

One other thing: this diamond area is absolutely obsessed with the shape and condition of tiles on the floor. I mean, the entire game has been, to some degree, but in this area, I could barely walk three steps without some new message about the tiles. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to be reading anything into these descriptions. Perhaps there's some giant puzzle at the end that depends on my ability to faithfully recall tile descriptions.

This game is confusing me with The HGTV Addict.

The rest of the level had encounters with spiders and lizards that never cleared: if I left the room and re-entered, there they were again. They helped remind me that I was playing a CRPG and not reading the Sunday paper.

These guys sucked, too. Corroded my weapons and armor in melee combat. I learned to hit them with RALKOR from a distance.

Overall, the time spent in this diamond area has been some of the most exhilarating moments I've ever had in a CRPG; it's probably the best I've felt since the kobold battles in Pool of Radiance. It was a truly challenging puzzle that made me feel honestly rewarded for having finished it. This is turning out to be a pretty awesome game.


  1. Imagine you are a non English speaker trying to solve the crossword puzzle. (Possible outcome: game disks out of the window, after a session with a paper shredder).

    1. Once upon a time in early 90s, the whole stuff of computer department of one of the russian Research Institutes had been playing "Uukrul" during near a half of year. All research projects were stopped. But they walked it through! I was there, great times!
      Dark Heart of Uukrul will be in my personal Top10 of RPG forever.

  2. I can understand Sagaris. I mean, here you are sitting, just sitting quietly at home and every few days a gruff, smelly group of people come around. They show you completely mundane objects, and ask you what they are. (Holding out a stick:) "What is this?" It's a stick. (Holding out a club:) "What is this?" It's a club. Are you blind?

    Really enjoying this series, keep it up!

  3. The only word I figured out instantly was "ash".
    Of the rest I think I managed to figure out about half of them. I wouldn't have stood a chance with these puzzles when I was a kid, being a "foreigner".

  4. It was just before this puzzle I gave up the game. I don´t think I would have solved it without cheating.

  5. "This is turning out to be a pretty awesome game."

    I am very, very happy you are enjoying this masterpiece in computer roleplaying (and all your posts on Sentinel Worlds and Bloodwych are therefore forgiven... I know, those games really sucked, but nostalgia is a powerful and misleading factor).

    As I read every post of your playthrough, I really can't imagine how could I win this game when I was 14 years old and only had an English-Spanish dictionary to help me. I remember the crossword puzzle but I don't know whether I was able to solve it. People is pointing out there are more than 6 hearts, so I guess I didn't.

    Also shocking to me is the fact that (supposedly) only 5.000 copies of this game were produced. How on earth did I end up with one when I was living in a little island of the Atlantic Ocean?

    Anyway, all these posts are really showing why playing this game felt awesome.

    1. Where do you get that only 5 thousand were released?

    2. PetrusOctavianus linked some stuff in the comments to the first post: a playthrough, a let's play and an interview with the developers.

      The number of copies released is mentioned in the interview, among many other interesting details about the creation of the game.

    3. The interview goes into lots of details, it contains spoiler though!

  6. Glad you're having a good time with this. Like Omega (which I didn't know about before), this is one of those hidden gems that a lot more people ought to know about and play.

  7. I think I've solved it all, although I'm a bit iffy about my answer for 6. As far as 7 goes, it's actually clued three times: anagram, definition, addition. And 2 is just lame.

  8. Well, I've worked on it all I can for now. I've got just over half of it figured out. For the record though, I think 6 down is the easiest one on there - I probably would've struggled with 9 down awhile but 6 jumped out at me. I guess it just goes to show that everyone's mind works differently.

    1. I found 8 down to be the easiest, though 6 and 9 came shortly after.

  9. I am very glad you're enjoying your time with Uukrul. You're officially deeper than I ever got. I am Greek and though my English is functional, I have never solved a crossword in my life.

  10. I work in a game development studio and had a conversation with someone about this puzzle just a couple of months ago. It comes up in conversations ever year or two while talking about uncommon design choices. This puzzle is one of the high points in my memory of RPGs over the 90's, and I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    As soon as I saw Uukrul on your blog, I instantly thought of a document I wrote back in 1989/90 for this puzzle. It was one of the two RPG papers I wrote (with Ultima V's power words and other info being the other) and was one of my prized items of gaming memorabilia. Sadly lost when my parents cleaned out my gaming items in the mid 90’s.

    1. I trust this was the one that your grandmother assisted with?

  11. I got it in about an hour. Only 1 and 9 jumped out at me. 2 is indeed a bit lame, but then again dragons may have their own ideas about what constitutes a good clue.

    The bit you are not getting in 7 is probably "two points". Think compass. This one is actually clued twice over as well as the definition.

    I would dispute that cryptic crosswords are necessarily harder. They are easier in the sense that you don't depend so much on the crossings. For example, a simple crossword would just have "tree" for 9, and you'd need to get the crossing to know what kind of tree is meant. With a cryptic, you don't know immediately that a tree is meant, but when you get it you know exactly which tree.

    1. THANK YOU for clearing up the two points thing. I couldn't figure out what that part of the clue had to do with EN.

      You are right that solving cryptics depends less on the crossings. There are far fewer shared letters in most cryptics than in American crosswords.

  12. In World of Xeen (M&M 4+5) you have a GIANT, and I mean GIANT crossword puzzle dungeon. It's 33x33 squares...

    You have to have both games installed though, because it's a dungeon on Cloudside but the key is on Darkside.

    1. Heh, I skipped the entire dungeon when I recently played World of Xeen.
      Like Adventure games, I liked crosswords when I was younger, but now I don't have the patience for them anymore.

  13. I never knew there was a pattern to those cryptic crossword puzzles. I tried one ages ago and gave up. I might have to give them another go, now that I understand the pattern.

    I'm not stupid, but things like that sure make me feel like I am!

    1. If you don't know to look for clue words for anagrams, additions, and so forth, cryptic crosswords are nearly impossible.

    2. The best way to think of it is that all or most cryptic clues have two parts: a definition and a separate clue. So you actually get more than in a simple clue - the problem is that you don't know which part is which, and the surface meaning of the whole clue is generally irrelevant.

  14. You share a vice with Bill Clinton! (No doubt you know he's quite sharp at crosswords)

    Interestingly, the pop of one of my friends used to write crosswords for The Times and also loved the gold box games, I should find out if he played dark heart! Sounds like crpg and crossword lovers might have a fair bit of overlap.

    1. Yes, he makes a cameo appearance in Wordplay. Great film.

  15. 6 is super-easy; but I doubt my ability to get any of the other ones.

    1. Believe it or not, I originally had just MMM for that one. I didn't figure out I was wrong until I got 10-across.

  16. Angry Dialogue During Clash of Blades = "Grosswords"?


    1. At least you got that the title was a cryptic!

    2. I'm trying (and failing) to get your cryptic post heading! I'm assuming that angry dialogue is something like yell, shout or argue, and that clash of blades is something like battle, fight etc. The word "between" therefore means you have to place the first word inside the second to get a new word, but I can't come up with any workable combos. Am I on the right track or miles off???

    3. Wait, I realised that "angry dialogue" means "cross words" which should have been obvious! Can't get "between clash of blades" to make sense though, do you just mean "crossword battle"?

    4. To 'cross swords' is to engage in a fight. Clashing blades is intended to evoke crossing swords.

    5. Ah, so it's a "double definition". I don't think cryptic crosswords are my thing.

  17. Yeah, I'd have failed this. I suck at normal crosswords, I can't do the cryptic ones at all. My Dad however, gets games magazines full of them (and Battleship, and a few others) for fun.

    I know at least one game you are going to like when you get to it, I'm not sure what year that will be though.

    HGTV-CRPG Geek. I'd read it as he or she gave detailed commentary on the aesthetic choices the designers made. Repetitive environments are STILL one of the big problems with modern games. I know drawing lots of different looking dungeons is expensive, but still.

  18. When I said, "Which ones can you get? Put your answers in the comments," I meant put the actual answers that you were able to figure out, not just the total number! I was just going to give them in the posting, but I thought it would be more fun this way.

  19. I love this puzzle. I didn't play the game so I would never have known about it. Also wanted to say thanks for giving us the chance to solve it before posting answers, for this and the "hangman" puzzle in the last post. I've just spent a half hour at work (!) figuring this out. Since you've asked specifically for answers, here they are - SPOILERS for anyone wanting to have a go themselves!

    1 FRAIL
    2 INSIDE
    3 NEED
    4 DRAGON
    5 TEETH
    6 HUM
    8 KNEE
    9 ASH
    12 ICICLED

    My efforts to explain to people exactly why I like cryptic crosswords have always failed completely, much like my efforts to explain why I'm playing old games when I could be playing new ones. They're still new to me! I might make use of your handy guide next time someone asks me what the "rules" are.

    1. I got most of them.

      For 1), is the 'loud' clue supposed to evoke 'Fray'?

      I'd have never got 11), although now I get what sorts of answers to look for.

      Icicled is a cool word. wink wink. (I didn't get it though)

      As for 7 across, it's rearranged avenger or alternatively, Two [compass] points (East and North) followed by grave.

    2. The "loud" part gives you the letter f, because in musical notation an "f" is used for "forte", the italian word for loud. Once you know this one, you'll see it used a lot in cryptic crosswords, together with similar ones for "p" (pianissimo, soft/quiet), "pp" (pianissimo, very quiet) and "ff" (fortissimo, very loud). The rest of the clue is the backwards liar, i.e. rail.

      Funny thought - Can you imagine someone putting something like this in a mass-market game produced today?

    3. Oops, should just be "piano" for "p".

    4. Thanks Bunyip

      I should have remembered that from my clarinet playing days.

      These days, even indie titles would be criticised for such a puzzle. Perhaps warranted if it were required to finish the game, but not as a side quest.

      Age of Decadence, which will be coming out in the next few months, has caused a bit of a stir because you can realistically get killed in the very first combat encounter.

      Actually, New Vegas gave me a combat smackdown early on, despite me having played Fallout 3. Who would have thought that wandering around in the open holding a pea shooter might be dangerous in a lawless, irradiated wasteland? Good times.

    5. I got all of them but 11. I think what tripped me up was that I was expecting it to end in ESS, but now I see that it says "short recess".

      Thanks for posting this puzzle CRPG. I haven't done a cryptic crossword in years.

  20. Kinda O/T, but I really enjoy the Tex Murphy series...puzzles are awesome! :) And a couple of them have crosswords as well...among a lot of other puzzles! And, some of the best storytelling in computing history! (That said, they are not RPGs, but rather more like adventure games, but not in the Sierra-style.)

    That said, I think I would give Might & Magic extra props because Sudoku & related puzzles weren't even popular when M&M was produced. Crosswords at least are known to be a popular puzzle form. Still, props to Uukrul for its inclusion! :)

  21. I'm pretty good at cryptics; out local newspaper has one, so I generally do one a day. This one was pretty easy; only one that really gave me pause for thought was 11 across, as I tried to remember all the R words for "Gives up" I could think of (rescinds, retreats, resigns...) before working it out the other way around. Did the dragon drag on?

  22. I used to think I was good at crosswords. Then I saw a Cryptic.

    1. That's how I felt the first few times, but they get a lot easier once you understand how the cluing words work. Imagine if you picked up a regular crossword without knowing what a question mark at the end of an entry meant, or before you understood that an abbreviation in the clue might mean an abbreviation in the answer.

    2. I've been trying to learn to do cryptic crosswords for a while now. I have some of the lingo down, so I can often solve a quarter of the puzzle or so, but there are just so many terms of art used by the setters that would never occur to anyone approaching the thing naively. Like how heather=Erica, or how 'painter' can mean RA (royal academician) and that kind of thing. Or like the example you gave, of flower=river. Maybe one day I'll finish a puzzle on my own and howl in triumph; until then I have a couple of friends who can do this stuff, and when I can I follow along as they go through a puzzle. One thing I can now do most of the time and that's behind a lot of what limited success I do have is spot the anagram keywords, like 'damaged' or 'altered' or 'about' or 'amiss'. For this one I managed KNEEL, ASH, HUM, ENGRAVE, NEED, UNDERFOOT and DRAGON. But the 'cold wet spikes' one I thought was FROSTED, which would have stopped me getting much further.

  23. Ah! Now I can finally try to solve the Wall Street Journal crossword puzzles! I had no idea American crossword puzzles are so sophisticated. German crossword puzzles are much, much easier.

    1. Well, this is more a British one....

    2. Which one? The one in the game? I was refering to the 8 different types of puzzles Chet mentioned in this post. I didn't know that you had to think outside of the box so much when you attempt to solve a cryptic crossword. At least I think that the crossword puzzle in the weekend WSJ is a cryptic one... It might just be that I fail at this.

    3. Right. Cryptic Crosswords are generally British things, though some American papers provide them-- My Dad has done the Cryptic Crossword in Games magazine for years. (I wonder if Chet also likes the Battleship and coded word puzzles?)

      "Now, more than a crossword, this was a cryptic crossword, more the style you'll find in The Times of London than The New York Times. Cryptic crosswords are much harder."

      (Sorry for the delay; this got buried in my email)


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