Sunday, November 18, 2012

Dark Heart of Uukrul: Final Rating

This is the last codex passage I was allowed to read at my level. I wonder what the last one would have said. I ultimately used this beacon to destroy Eriosthe.

The Dark Heart of Uukrul
United Kingdom
Digital Studios (developer); Brøderbund Software (publisher)
Released 1989 for DOS and Apple II
Date Started: 17 October 2012
Date Won: 15 November 2012
Total Hours: 29
Difficulty: Moderate (3/5)
Final Rating: 61
Ranking at Time of Posting: 69/71 (97%)
Raking as of Game #455: 449/455 (99%)

In my first posting on The Dark Heart of Uukrul, PetrusOctavianus linked me to an interview that RPGCodex resident (and die-hard CRPG Addict fan) Crooked Bee completed with the Uukrul developers, Ian Boswell and Martin Buis. The interview, preceded by a nice review of the game, is worth a read because it offers a broad view of the game that my own writing has not provided. Bee praises the game for delivering "a living and highly dangerous environment that makes the dungeon as such, and not just Uukrul, your antagonist." She enumerates virtues of various levels--virtues that I didn't stop to ponder enough during my own playing.

As much as I know that my review will rate the game highly, I also think I did it a bit of an injustice. I played most of it during a time in which I didn't have the solid hours to devote to it (it should not have taken anywhere near a month to finish), and my playing, my notes, my maps, and my memories are all too fragmented. Reading various online reviews and walkthroughs, I'm more aware of the thorough planning and tight structure that went into each area. There is, for instance, an area that every review calls "The Cube," but which my disorganized mapping left me utterly unaware that it formed a cube. Ditto the "Pyramid." I should not have abandoned traditional mapping of the game when I did.

Crooked Bee has an interesting paragraph at the beginning of her review that I want to focus on for a minute. It presents a dichotomy of CRPGs that I have never considered before:

There are different kinds of CRPGs that focus on different things. To those who, like me, prefer CRPGs that are about abstraction rather than simulation, Dark Heart of Uukrul is pretty much a perfect game. It does not aim to model a superficially "realistic" NPC behavior, nor offers an "interactive" story or appeals to the player's emotions in an awkward attempt to get personal. It is aware that, much like a wargame, a CRPG is a mental exercise first and foremost, an abstraction of a task solved through character progression in the broad sense, one discarding everything superfluous and relying on a strict system of several abstract elements that both support and limit each other: character development, dungeon design, and combat, each of them a "puzzle" of its own, representing the various challenges your characters overcome in their progress, as well as a piece of the overarching logic that you must figure out to master the game.

I absolutely agree with the distinction she makes between "abstraction" and "simulation," and yet in so agreeing, I must say that I generally prefer the opposite type of game. I like games that do "get personal" and that offer realistic NPCs. While appreciating their intellectual challenge, I generally scoff at the unrealistic puzzles that a lot of games provide. Who put all those signs on the walls? Where did Sheltem get the contractors who wrote his name into the floor plan? Do all of the clues offered in Uukrul's cryptic crossword really make sense in the context of a quasi-Medieval society? These types of things keep me up.

Why would Uukrul allow this kind of hint in his dungeon? Does he have a death wish?
What Crooked Bee seems to be arguing is that we shouldn't take these challenges literally, but instead treat them as abstractions of what such characters would encounter. It makes sense; when you think about it, everything in a game is an abstraction. Hit points are an abstraction of a character's ability to deflect and absorb damage. Characters who move one at a time in turn-based combat are an abstraction for the confused simultaneous melee that would accompany real combat. The "backpack" is an abstraction for the myriad ways in which a real character would find to haul and stow gear. If I'm willing to accept abstractions for inventory, combat, and controls, why not for plot as well? It's certainly worth thinking about.

In the meantime, let's talk GIMLET. I'm going to quote a little from Crooked Bee's interview here.

1. Game World. Uukrul does a great job transcending the traditional "dungeon crawl" with both a solid back story and an innovative dungeon design. In lore, it doesn't go to the level of Ultima IV or The Magic Candle, but it gives you a good reason for being in the dungeon (as level 1 characters, no less), and it's interesting how the party treads over the bones of the previous expedition.

In fact, I missed out on a big part of the game's lore by forgetting to use the "Globe of Blood" I found in the pyramid area. Gazing into the globe provided visions of the previous expedition at various key locations, but I completely forgot about it after Sagaris told me what it did (I probably took a break for a couple days at that point). I think the globe would have offered more clues and fleshed out the story.

I could have been getting these visions at multiple stages.
There were references throughout the game to which you needed to pay close attention to fully grasp the history and lore. My erratic playing schedule and a failure to take good notes meant that I didn't pay that kind of attention. Sagaris's revelation that he is really an ancient named Suraqis really didn't strike me with the force that the developers probably meant, as I couldn't remember who either the Ancients or Suraqis were supposed to be.

The dungeon itself is more lovingly designed than almost any other I've encountered during my CRPG playing. I loved that it didn't follow the perfectly symmetrical, square trope that we see in so many other games. In Crooked Bee's interview, the developers explain that they wanted the dungeon to "sprawl and spread out, including going up and down as well, like real caves and tunnels makes exploring the dungeon a lot more mysterious, even scary, because you have no idea where it's going to lead or how far you are from your goal." This is very true at the beginning, though slightly less so towards the end when the game starts to feel a bit linear and more artificial. Still, all areas benefit from the excellent and evocative descriptors that set the tone and sometimes give hints to the puzzles that follow. Finally, the game mostly does a good job responding to the player's presence and remembering things he does at various key locations (e.g., dials remain set, key encounters remain solved), although I didn't like that I had to struggle to re-open every secret door once I left it's square. Score: 7.

The well-written descriptions make up for a lack of graphical detail or sound.

2. Character Creation and Development. The game starts out with a fantastic character creation system, and while I suppose you could "game" the process to produce the attributes that best help each character, I found it a lot more fun to do what the game suggested: envision the character first, then answer the questions honestly and live with any subsequent weaknesses. It perhaps made the opening stages a little harder, but it also made them more fun.

I wish every game started with a character creation process like this. The only ones nearly as creative so far are Ultima IV and Omega.

That you must have a fighter, a paladin, a mage, and a priest didn't bother me too much, although it does seem like a needless restriction. (The developers claim it was necessary for the plot, but it seems to me that a little tweaking could have removed that necessity.) Level progression is extremely satisfying in the game, as it's through this progression that you get higher attributes, more spell rings, and access to additional entries in the Magicians' Circle codex. Every level-up I enjoyed was followed by visits to the shrines, the Magicians' Circle, and the shops (to see if I could wield better weapons). I also like that you're rewarded for more than just combat; experience points are given for solving puzzles, accomplishing quest targets, and even finding secret doors and items. The way the game divvies combat experience is novel and fair, and I like that I finished the game without achieving the highest level; I don't generally like games with level caps, but when they have them, I want them to be difficult to reach.

It's not perfect. You reach a point in the early levels where killing monsters contributes so little to your experience that you barely advance. There's a long lag between Level 4 and subsequent levels. And there is hardly any character-specific role-playing or use of names and sexes in the game. But these concerns are outweighed by the positives. Score: 6.

3. NPC Interaction. Regrettably light. There are NPCs, of a sort, like Mara and Sagaris, but your interaction with them is generally limited to them showing up and saying things to you. You have a few encounter options, but no real dialogue options or role-playing opportunities. The few NPCs that you do encounter are very important to the plot, however. Score: 4.

Mara was kind-of an NPC, although there weren't really a lot of "interaction" options.

4. Encounters and Foes. What I like about Uukrul is that it precedes a lot of the key combats with a short cut-screen that introduces the foe and gives you some explanation as to his disposition and why you're about to fight him. The only other game that has done this particularly well is Pool of Radiance; most other games of the era just throw you into sudden encounters with interchangeable enemies. The enemies in Uukrul have various strengths and weaknesses, frailties and immunities, and are generally well distinguished by icon. I like how the same icon might represent a few characters, so you need to engage them to know what you're really facing. The game also shares with Pool of Radiance the occasional "encounter option" before combat, although these are not very plentiful and often end in the same result. It also does random encounters well. It doesn't plague you with them, but it does offer enough to keep things interesting and allow grinding if you feel like it. Score: 7.

A few encounters offered choices like this, although they didn't make a lot of difference in the end.

5. Magic and Combat. The combat and magic systems in this game were both very well done. Although the turn-based tactical combat options weren't quite to the level of Pool of Radiance, they were nearly so, with the chief drawbacks being the extra movement points given to enemies and the inability to attack on the diagonal. You have a lot of options in combat depending on the character class: attacking, defending, using items, casting spells, summoning elementals, laying on hands, and turning undead. Battles are generally dangerous and require some attention, but there's an auto-combat system for when that's not the case, and even the most nail-biting of them are over quickly enough that you don't feel bored.

I find a iconographic, tactical combat screen much more satisfying than first-person hacking and slashing.

I talked about the magic system extensively a few postings ago. While the "rings" system isn't miles removed from the "levels" offered by other games, I loved the randomness that accompanied priest prayers. Martin Buis explains the genesis of this system in the interview:

We hit upon the idea of making the wizard very deterministic and the priest very non-deterministic. I'd done psychology and was interested in exploring how Fixed Response and Variable Response schedules might be used in a game, and this worked...I particularly like the way the priest starts out frustrating and a liability to the party, but by the end is a mighty fighting machine.

The game also balances spell points very well. You have enough to last for an expedition of reasonable length, but not so many that you can waste them all casting your highest-level spells in every encounter. Score: 6.

I reloaded after I won, got the crystal ring in the fire Arkana, and tried out the CYQIEKUN spell. It was awesome. It killed every troll on the screen.
6. Equipment. This is one of the best games for equipment, but I didn't spend a lot of time talking about this aspect in my postings. Both in the shops and scattered within the dungeon are a wide variety of items to find, identify, wear, and wield, including weapons (obviously), armor of different types (main armor, leggings, helmets, boots, shields), magic items, scrolls, and potions. Even though he wasn't often as thorough as I would have liked, Sagaris's identifications provided more interesting descriptions of the items than we've seen in almost any other game so far. I like that the game treats quest items and regular items roughly the same, allowing Sagaris to tell you interesting things about both (in some cases, Sagaris's comments were vital to solving a puzzle). Score: 7.

The next earliest game that I know that has this kind of detailed item description is Baldur's Gate or Might & Magic VI from 1998. I just wish it had also included a damage estimate.
7. Economy. Also very well-done. Gold rewards are neither sparse nor generous, and since equipment, identification, food, resurrections, and weapon repair all require gold, you don't really run out of reasons to make money until the very end. I ended the game with around 15,000 gold pieces, which is a little higher than I would normally like, but I think I got most of those by raiding Uukrul's treasury at the very end. For the most part, even towards the end, I was making tough decisions about what to buy and whether I really wanted to pay for Sagaris's services to identify something I had a pretty good idea about anyway. Score: 8.

8. Quests. The main quest is reasonably interesting. Although it involves the common "kill the Big Bad" trope, it is very well-conceived in its multiple stages (some of them optional) and the quality of its puzzles. You heard me glow about the cryptic crossword and several of the navigation puzzles; though many games feature puzzles, this game does a better job than most integrating them into the structure of the dungeon and the unique nature of the plot.

I doubt any other game offers a cryptic crossword and a cryptogram.
Some reviews online have praised the final "chaos" area, where you rescue Mara from her prison and coma. I'm going to go against these reviewers by saying that I didn't really like this area. It was, I admit, highly original, and Boswell gives what sounds like a compelling explanation in the interview: 
Yes, we loved working on this one. Another twist, it’s the exact opposite of what you expect at the climax of an RPG. You’ve almost got to the end, your party has built up all these immense powers, vast wealth and treasures, the greatest weapons and the most potent magic… and it’s all useless. Nothing can get you through here except your wits.

Entering The Chaos.

The problem, as I see it, is that it occurs at the very end of the game. If it had taken place before the climactic battle with Uukrul, I might have enjoyed it a little more, like the cryptic crossword. But it seems to me that the point of a CRPG is to build up power, wealth, and treasure, so it's a little unsatisfying to have a climactic challenge that calls upon none of the things you've spent the last 20+ hours achieving. I got a lot of experience and treasure from the Uukrul battle, and there was literally no point in returning to the shrines and mage's circle and shops.

I wish there had been a side-quest or two, and that there had been some options that changed the end of the main quest (what if I decided not to destroy the underground city?), but overall, the nature of the main quest and its interesting puzzles made up for an extremely compelling game despite these few drawbacks. Score: 6.

I wonder what would have happened at this stage if I had never gotten the object for Sagaris from the "pool of testing."
9. Graphics, Sound, and Inputs. We are still some distance from an era in which graphics help create real atmosphere to the dungeons, but the graphics in Uukrul were certainly good enough. Some of the cut-scene graphics, as well as the end game graphics, are among the best we've seen so far. The keyboard controls were intuitive (with available commands generally marked on the screen), and once I learned them, I generally didn't have to think about them, which I consider the sign of a good game. The automapping system is probably the best one I've encountered so far.
The big drawback, of course, is the lack of any sound; the developers didn't put so much as a beep in the game. It must be said, however, that in this era, I find most game sounds so bad that I turn them off anyway. Score: 5.

Really nice endgame graphics, I thought.
10. Gameplay. Two of my criteria for a very high score in the "gameplay" section are nonlinearity and replayability, and I can't say that Uukrul has either. The opening areas feel nonlinear, but once you start your quest for the six stone hearts, you're on a very linear track between sanctuaries. Since you have to take four characters of the same classes every time, there isn't much you could accomplish on a replay that you didn't accomplish the first time; in fact, since so much of the game is dependent on solving puzzles, a replay would probably feel too easy.

But the game excels in my other two elements for this section: difficulty and pacing. The difficulty level is just about perfect. I loved that it saves every time you enter combat, die, enter a sanctuary, or do just about anything else, and I like that there are limited places in which you can make backups of the game to ward complete disaster. Again, I want to quote Boswell on the rationale here:

Personally, I was never comfortable with the approach most computer RPGs take, where if a character dies you just go back to a recent save, then carry on as if nothing happened. I thought death should matter. It should be a setback. If you can erase your mistakes that easily, it encourages reckless play. Similarly, winning a difficult encounter becomes no great reward.

Initially, I wanted to have no save/restore facility at all, just save/resume. If you lose a character, he/she is gone for good. You can get a new character of similar level to join your party but the dead one stays dead. Broderbund vetoed that idea, and they were right. So we came up with the Sanctuary system, and it’s a really good balance between having a save/restore facility, and still having a strong incentive to keep your characters alive. 

I can't agree more. The only way I'm able to achieve this same tension--the same consequences associated with death--in modern games is by forcing myself to limit my saved games.

Taking advantage of the game's only "fail safe" mechanism.

The pacing is also excellent. It lasts just as long as it should, and not longer. When the end came, I was neither desperate for it to be over nor wishing it would last another 10 hours. This is extremely rare for me: no matter how much I like a game, I almost always think it's too long. Score: 5.

The Dark Heart of Uukrul isn't perfect in any of my 10 GIMLET areas, but it's above average in almost all of them, resulting in a final rating of 61, higher than everything I've played so far except Pool of Radiance and Ultima V. I think that sounds right, and if my postings on the game didn't seem brimming with this kind of joy, it's because of the fragmented way in which I've played it over the past month.
Uukrul deserves to be at least as famous as Dungeon Master. It isn't, and I suspect that's simply because it never achieved much of a following during its first release. Crooked Bee's interview with Boswell and Buis shows that the game was a labor of love for the two developers, who met at Auckland University in the early 1980s. Weaned on Wizardry and Zork, they hatched a plan for combining the dungeon-crawling aesthetic of the former with the puzzle-solving of the latter. Over a series of sessions lasting several years, they collaboratively plotted the unique dungeon areas between sanctuaries, with Boswell doing most of the actual programming. When they had a decent demonstration version, they shopped it to Brøderbund, Electronic Arts, and Activision. Brøderbund, looking to enter the CRPG market, snapped it up.

Unfortunately, as they relate, the game entered the market just as the Apple II was dying, and Brøderbund never effectively marketed the game. Game magazines at the time didn't review it. It only sold around 5,000 copies in its commercial release, making this one of what must be a few games that has more players today than in its initial release. Boswell and Buis had always regarded Uukrul as a side-project while they were finishing their educations; they eventually went into other careers and never made another game. And Brøderbund never did much else in the CRPG market; I think the only other game they made that's on my list is Centauri Alliance from 1990.

Even today, with good reviews like mine, Crooked Bee's, Saintus's "CRPG Revisted" blog, and Andrew Schultz's from 2010, the game doesn't get quite as much love as it deserves. There are no fan pages that I can find. There are two walkthroughs on GameFAQs, but in my opinion neither is very good, which is all the more surprising because one of them was written by the usually-reliable Schultz. It's definitely not his best work.

One of my main goals in starting this project and blog was to discover forgotten gems like The Dark Heart of Uukrul. Although the game has enjoyed a small cult following for years--I hope I at least introduced a few dozen new players to it. Try it for yourself with some solid chunks of time to spare, and I don't think you'll be disappointed.

From here, we move on to a game that everyone seems to know, yet which will be fun to play anyway: Hero's Quest: So You Want to Be a Hero. I see that my colleague, Trickster the Adventure Gamer, has also just finished a game that he started a month ago, so my understanding is that he's going to play Hero's Quest as a fighter while I explore it from the perspective of a thief. I look forward to comparing our reactions!


  1. It sounds hard to simultaneously immerse yourself in the game's world and lore and also treat significant chunks of what your characters encounter as abstractions.

    1. I agree, but the problem is, it's hard to immerse yourself in a CRPG's world and lore period. As much as I like to TRY, we're in an era in which graphics and sound and programming limitations in things like NPC dialogue make that kind of immersion very difficult. So why not revel in the quality of the abstraction?

      In saying all of this, I'm trying to convince myself. I don't know if I really fully agree.

    2. Reveling in the abstraction itself seems very similar to art that consists of books with the pages cut into pieces or placed in random order as words/sentences/stories are abstractions... It ignores the purpose of a story (or in many cases, CRPG) as a way for people to visit another 'world' and potentially learn new ways of seeing themselves or the world around them -- strip that down to words or combat mechanics, and there's no world to explore or learn from.

      IMHO how difficult it is to immerse ourselves in their lore depends largely on how much effort the developers put into that particular task, including in the selection of feelies and how the manual/guide is presented. Of course, it also depends on how much of an imagination we have left after growing up, and how willing we are to suspend disbelief enough to really get into it.

      While playing through Ultima VI for the first time recently, I noticed a huge gap in terms of how its feelies affected immersion compared to the previous game. The map's colors & illustrations don't seem medieval, and it's too busy to be useful in seeing routes through mountains or tell that a 'stream' is really a river. Likewise, its book has a simple paper cover with drawing that is too clearly modern, and the writing inside is in a dry lecture form with "you" replacing the old thee/thou.

      In comparison, Ultima V's map has 'organic' colors and appropriate illustrations; it's easy to tell where rivers turn to streams & foothills to mountains. The book's cover has a leather-like texture and image of the crown jewels; the writing is interesting and easy enough to read beyond what's necessary, with the mini-story of British/Mondain worth reading for pleasure. They help the player immerse themselves in Britannia's lore, and if the player is imaginative & willing enough, within the game itself despite the oldschool graphics.

    3. We just have to keep in mind that there are a lot of players who aren't interested in being "immersed" in a CRPG--players who are far more interested in the tactical challenge and puzzles, who see the story of the game as just a framework for the gameplay. The earliest games--pong, Pac-Man, etc.--didn't really bother to create a framework that made sense, and even with games like Space Invaders or Asteroid, the games aren't really "about" fighting aliens or destroying asteroids; they're about how quickly you can move the controls. Why should CRPGs be different?

      Such players laugh at us: people who read the History of Britannia and take it SERIOUSLY instead of just regarding it as a structure we can blow past to get to the combat. I could see how detailed NPC dialogues would be torture for them.

      It's not my style of playing, but I don't think it's an invalid style of playing.

    4. For any sufficiently complex game, computer of otherwise, there will be players who care more about the lore and players who care more about the mechanics.

      Some DMs run room-by-room dungeon exerminations, others run interactive stories with nary a dice rolled; there are crpg equivalents for both.

      I think it's fair to criticise a puzzle-heavy game for not housing its puzzles in an appropriate guise. Similarly I think it's fair to criticise a lore-heavy game for having boring character development or combat.

      Even when the mechanics or lore is not the focus, if those elements are present, they should be done well. Otherwise you might as well not have made a CRPG in the first place and just made a puzzle game or an adventure game.

    5. "We just have to keep in mind that there are a lot of players who aren't interested in being "immersed" in a CRPG--players who are far more interested in the tactical challenge and puzzles"

      <-- Oh I think you're very wrong about this. There's a reason why games like Skyrim and Witcher sell well. Actual game mechanics matter, too, because they help glue the game together, keep you engaged, and carry the player along.

      I also think people often find the combat elements of games tedious and want to "blow past" that as fast as possible. Take especially games like Pokemon where you get interrupted by random battles all the time. Its why players keep trying to find better gear and increase their stats, so they can blow past combat easier. Its why people use cheats and save states in NES emulators. Its why people use save scumming to get around mistakes. And in Ultima V, for instance, everyone rushed to get the magic axes, which were way OP (and IMO also ruined the fun of combat).

      Back when I was a kid and I played Super Mario with friends, we used to discuss all the different types of monsters and stuff in the game and designed our own levels. Its the stuff in games that sparks your imagination that attracts lots of people.

      Game mechanics like puzzles and combat are necessary too, I just think this attitude that nobody likes immersion except RPG nerds couldn't be further from the truth. I find it more that the RPG nerds are the ones that tend to be into the stats die rolls.

  2. I never played this either but I doubt I would've enjoyed it as much, since I'm not a big fan of puzzles in RPGs at all. Before internet, I always got stuck in some arbitrary puzzle that somehow assumes that you're familiar with US (or UK) culture and history. That crossword puzzle in particular would've killed this game for me.

    Speaking of Hero's Quest, I feel like I should mention that there's a kickstarter for new RPG series by Corey and Lori Cole, the designers of Hero's Quest / Quest of Glory:

    It's still 80K$ short with 60 hours to go. Kickstarter projects always get a lot of pledges during the last day, but it's still going to be close. Every bit would count.

    1. It's been really struggling to make it's money, but I really hope they make it!

      Check out their website too:

    2. The crossword doesn't have to be a game-killer, though, because you only have to find six hearts out of the eight available in the dungeon. Still, I agree that a lot of the games in this era are very English-centric.

      In other news, all of my readers must get my blog via RSS or mobile.

    3. Yep. Via RSS feed. I also get comments by both RSS feed and email (Sometimes I miss comments on old articles).

      I do comment less now, as it is more of a pain to comment from my phone. On the other hand, I don't have to delete a ton of spam emails, as I'd get emails about spam posts that never appeared on the blog. I do wish they used to 2 part reCatchpa ones, as at least then I felt like I was helping OCR books.

    4. Wow, that's a key bit of information! I didn't realize that readers who subscribed to comments via RSS got all those spam comments, too. That's another argument to leave the Captcha in place, then.

    5. By RSS you don't (I think there is a 'comment removed' entry. However, by email you do. RSS feed updates as you delete them, however email goes out as soon as it is posted. So I also get to read all the comments that are posted then deleted. Also, when someone tried to post a long entry with lots of links over at The Adventure Gamer I got every copy, even though they didn't show up on the site. It is probably a mistake in the order it processes commands (Get post > email > check spam).

    6. I get my fix o' the Addict on a daily basis by attempting to simply remrmbrr to go to the site every day. Iffen's I forget to type in the URL, why then, I forget to go to the site. Whoopsie! I kinda wonder about different wYs to do it zo I don't forget to visit every day, but there ya go. RSS dun't work for me, nor would daily email reminders (I forget to check my email in a daily basis either- blush). I suspects they ain't no answer for me, aside from possible ECT visits, but that has it's own memory issues as well.

      Buzz buzz buzz!

    7. I subscribe via email for every new posting. Unfortunately I haven't figured out how to set blogger to let me know when you have a new post so I don't see many of them till the discussion is mostly over. For instance I got into work today, checked blogger, and noticed you had two new entries with tons of comments.

      As for the other topic mentioned, You convinced me to back that kickstarter. I broke a rule and backed hero U even though it will not have a linux version at release. I know they say they plan on it after release, but whenever I hear that from developers it ends up being a well meaning lie. Just like I plan on going to the Gym with my wife at 4AM, I do want to do it but it just never happens.

    8. "... I doubt I would've enjoyed it as much, since I'm not a big fan of puzzles in RPGs at all. Before internet, I always got stuck in some arbitrary puzzle that somehow assumes that you're familiar with US (or UK) culture and history. That crossword puzzle in particular would've killed this game for me."

      I, on the other hand, love puzzles in RPGs - as long as they're item based, adventure game style puzzles. For some reason just the ability to use objects in my possession on parts of the game world makes it feel so much more real and deep. I have no love for "decode the password" style puzzles though, particularly if they're Star Trek references like in Might & Magic.

  3. During my own, more limited chronological project I must say that of the games I've never played before Uukrul, together with Darklands, is the game I enjoyed the most, even more than Starflight and Magic Candle.

    It definitely had deserved a better fate, but I don't agree that "Uukrul deserves to be at least as famous as Dungeon Master." Being objective, Dungeon Master was a far more revolutionary game two years before, and it was also released on the 16 bit machines.
    Uukrul is still "just" a traditional turn based CRPG, but with some unique ideas and game mechanics that puts it miles ahead of most of the other turn based traditional CRPGs of the same era that had more commercial success.

    1. I'm just now discovering Uukrul, and this makes me want to stick with it and play through it, once I finish my current MM4/5 adventure (getting close; currently almost done with MM5, then time for the joint quests). In fact, comparing it to being innovative like Darklands makes me want to fire up Uukrul before I finish my current MM4/5 adventure!

      Darklands...what a game! Only a couple more game years to go, which means hopefully less than 2 years in real time. I was also pleased to discover many of the elements, including some of the main quest elements, are randomly placed, so the game is different from one play to the next, not just from characters you create but also from where you need to go, and what stuff you may find in one city versus another. I can't wait to see the WOW moment from Darklands once it comes around :)

    2. "It definitely had deserved a better fate, but I don't agree that "Uukrul deserves to be at least as famous as Dungeon Master." Being objective, Dungeon Master was a far more revolutionary game two years before, and it was also released on the 16 bit machines."

      Seconding. DM made people rethink what was possible in RPGs and computer games in general; it was jaw-dropping as a technological achievement, broke new ground in design and it took years for competitors to catch up with it.

      Uukrul deserved better than complete obscurity though.

  4. I think you forgot to enter the Final Rating and Ranking at Time of Posting at the beginning of this article. Either that, or you chose not to.

    1. A few months ago, someone complained that it spoiled the rest of the GIMLET, so I decided I'd leave those blank when I first posted each final rating, then fill them in a few weeks later once the first-time readers were done.

    2. Clever. Why not just move those to the end of the post, like most reviews do?

    3. De bess answer and a reply killer as well. Logic no longer applies because the answer is always- because! Answering by then wrestling the speaker to the ground and engaging them in surprise sexual activity (involving repeated and deep penile penetration) is not always the answer to the retort either, even if the sexual activity is reciprocated and appreciated.

    4. Oh, I see. I imagined there might be a reason why they're missing, but I just thought to mention it in case you simply forgot to add the ratings.

      @William - your posts never cease to amaze me, in a I'm-not-sure-how-I-feel-about-them kind of way.

    5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. I enjoyed reading your progress through Uukrul and I'll try and make some time to give it a proper play through.

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  7. If you like question-based char creation systems, then wait till you get to Challenge of the Five Realms (1995, it's a LONG way to go - I'm pretty sure we won't even remember this commnent when you actually get round playing it :P ) - there were like 20-30 very elaborate questions which could have made for great quests. It's too bad that the writers got lazy when they started making the *real* quests of the game, though.

    1. I tend to search my comment history before starting each new game to remind myself what readers have said about it, so I'm sure I'll be reviewing this when I get to 1995!

    2. Same goes with Bloodnet, whch shouldn't be too surprising, being also developed by Microprose.
      But aside just character creation, the whole question/situation based process reminds me about Alter Ego.

  8. Does anyone know of more recent games that carry on the torch of Uukrul-type gameplay? (Maybe Rogue to Redemption will be one.)

    1. Unfortunately, if they do, it's likely by accident. DHU received such limited release, it's hard to imagine many subsequent game developers being influenced by it.

    2. That isn't always true. People who make games are usually pretty hardcore gamers, so if anyone played an obscure game it would be them. I've seen lots of influence lists that include obscure JRPGS and console releases and such that I've never heard of.

  9. Nice review, although I expected a higher gameplay value, but then I checked your GIMLET description for that and you follow it well. What makes it confusing is that there is not a single evaluation that well could represent how good the game as a gameplay/enjoyable experience is. One has to read the review to understand it.

    I fear there could be games scoring high in all other parts but the pure enjoyment part and those will have a high GIMLET score total but could still be a boring game.

    However, if reading your full reviews, one still get to know just how well a game is, it just takes more time to figure it out.

    1. and thanks for adding my review of the game!

    2. So far, I haven't run into any games where the "sum of the parts" score (the GIMLET) failed to reflect the totality of my playing experience. I agree it could happen. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it, I guess.

      But thank you for understanding that the quantitative part is just a small bit of the overall process of playing and reviewing a game.

  10. Glad to read that this game is as good as I remember. I played the Apple version I think. Although I remember certain puzzles very well, like the crossword puzzle, I can't remember if I finished the game. I have no recollection of the end game sequence, so I guess I didn't finish it.

    This is the first game from this era that I am tempted to replay. I prefer RPGs with lots of puzzles, so this game is perfect for me.

    As always, a great blog, I check it daily to see if there is a new update.

  11. The timing for Hero's Quest is almost perfect. Lori and Corey Cole's Hero-U KIckstarter campaign has less than 24 for hours to go and about $25,000 needed to reach its funding goal. I've already funded more of the recent wave of retro-style adventure and rpg projects than I should have--Doublefine Adventure, Jane Jenson's Pinkerton Studios, Two Guys from Andromeda's UnSpace Quest Game, the new Tex Murphy, Wastleland 2, Project Eternity, and The Broken Sword Sequel. Hearing about Hero U and watching the Kickstarter pitch video, I was pretty adamant that things had gotten out of hand, it was time to exercise some fiscal restraint.

    But, in an effort to keep up with CRPG addict and Trickster, and on whim, I fired up the VGA remake of Quest For Glory I in ScummVM. This game is *fun* to play. Plain and simple. (I think the text-parser based EGA original is even one-notch better, if a little more daunting for modern gamers.) I'm afraid that Lori and Corey might have come a little too late to the crowd-funding party, which is a shame, because replaying QFGI leaves me with no doubt that given the chance, these guys are as qualified as anybody to come up with something great.

    If you haven't gone over to check it out at yet (I know this has already been mentioned in several comments) do it. 20 bucks for a DRM free download is a lot less than the 49 dollars I paid for Hero's Quest I in 1989.

    And CRPG addict...if you aren't already planning, tomorrow morning would be a great time for the the introductory post to Hero's Quest. Every little bit helps.

    (Apologies to readers of Trickster's blog who may seem virtually the same post over there)

  12. "...This is extremely rare for me: no matter how much I like a game, I almost always think it's too long."

    A thing worth noting about this is that since you're determined to beat every RPG released on PC, you're in "review stance", not in "player stance". This difference in mindset subtly affects anyone who reviews games as an assembly line type, serial venture, rather than playing them for his own entertainment at his own pace, without thinking of the next game "in line", and it's basically this: a player wants a game to last much, much longer than a reviewer does. A reviewer wants to get his hands on the next game and is quick to regard the current one as an obstacle, while a player is in no hurry to get through the game and is likely to regard it as a worthy diversion by itself. If a game is truly enjoyable, a player wants it to last forever, while a reviewer still wants to get rid of it soon-ish since it's in the way of his future work no matter how good it may be.

    Just something to think about.

    1. Sorry Anon, I've got to disagree. Even as a player, a game, just like a movie, has a sense of pace and timing. The best games end at just the right time before they start to get repetitive or old.

    2. +1 anon: I'm afraid the contrastinging perspectives are inevitable.

  13. Shame I never heard of this game. Sounds like I might enjoy it even more than Dungeon Master. It's odd, but I originally came here to read your playthroughs of Wizardry. Despite us disagreeing on the merits of that franchise, I found myself sticking around to hear about all the exciting games I've missed or never even heard of. This has already paid off with Ultima, a series I probably wouldn't have revisited otherwise.

    In short, thanks for finding gems like this to give me something to look back to!

    1. If you like Wizardry, I can't imagine you wouldn't like Uukrul. I strongly encourage you to check it out.

  14. I started playing this game based entirely on your review of it. I am absolutely blown away by the quality of it and attention to detail. The exploration is wonderful, and I like that the battles feel tactical without being too long, tedious, or frequent. Thank you for reviewing it!

    1. Great that CRPG Addict is acting as an Underdog Reviewer to give these old forgotten gems the recognition they should deserve. XD

  15. Umpf....another rare gem. Unfortunately, my addiction is a bit more expensive then just playing crpg's. I have this urge called collecting, which can be very expensive depending on the subject since I share it with many other people out there ;) . Unfortunately crpg's definitely ARE expensive, the older the more. This one here is also pretty rare. I've waited a whole month before finding an acceptable offer on ebay. You should feel lucky if you already own this.

    1. And here I am again, having finally played through. You definitely did introduce the game at least to me, for which I'm very thankful. I haven't enjoyed it quite as much as most, in part because I screwed up badly ending up walking dead while being half way through as I mentioned in the comments for "more puzzles". But still I agree this game is a hidden gem.

  16. I thought I posted this on one of your Uukrul postings when they originally happened, but I guess not; I owe my handle to this game, and its decision to require one of each character class. Between having to make a magician and seeing the swank little mysterious faceless dude icon, my childhood self decided I had to come up with the coolest name imaginable if he was going to be worthy of that robe. Fifteen minutes of typing up random names later, I came up with "Quarex Osis" which I decided in awe must be the coolest name in history.

    You would think 25 years later I would not think it was still cool, though.

    Regardless, I am glad to have finally finished this game via proxy. I got like four of the stone hearts and found something seemingly inescapable without a recent has been far too long to remember what seemed inescapable. Good times.

  17. "I find a iconographic, tactical combat screen much more satisfying than first-person hacking and slashing." Yes, I agree. It must come from childhood, when you moved army men or playing pieces around a board. There is something tactile about isometric combat, rather than the wizardry model, which is abstract in the extreme.

  18. I loved this game so much as a kid, and still think of it from time to time -- I got here because I was searching for the "I will rule" riddle, wondering about all the hinted backstory of Eriosthe there. It took me a while to finish, and I never solved everything; I remember I opened the dragon through pure button-mashing. The game's writing is just beautiful. I'm so glad the game is not entirely lost!

  19. It's a rare condition, this day and age, to see such a good game on the CRPGAddict's page. A dungeon crawler of the grand design, some people say is even harder to find. A labour of love for the CRPG family!

  20. This game was not only reviewed in Spanish magazines, but it kept being popular way longer than its time. Probably because of the time games were taking to appear in the country, compared with their initial release.
    It even made the top5 list in Micromania up to 1993: page 32 (in Spanish)

  21. Its strange to me that one would choose this game as an example of 'abstraction' versus 'simulation', where it has a complex hunger system and you can't always count on resurrection because corpses decay. Consider not only a lot of modern RPGs giving that up, but even the Ultima games released at the time had something more simple. The encumbrance system is also another aspect of simulation, something Ultima V didn't have, as is the different states of health, and the complex feeling of the magic and prayer mechanics. You also mentioned the feel of the sprawling passages. Weapons also break, and there are more individual pieces of armor to put on. Uukrul has a lot of strong simulation aspects common to survival RPGs.

    There are other areas where the game could maybe be critiqued from the same perspective, but all the "real" aspects of the game mechanics I think actually helps the game a lot.

    Its not that I favor either "abstraction" or "simulation". All RPGs have a balance of the two. But to me, making RPGs about puzzles and progression and states such misses the point. If that's all it is, you might as well just get a big book of puzzles or play a strategy game or whatever else gives you the same stats and puzzles without all the pesky storytelling.

    Role-playing is about playing a "role", hence the old saying about "role"-playing vs "roll"-playing. You're a real character (or characters) in a world, have choices to make, have limits in how you can make them, and those choices have meaningful consequences. In order for those consequences to be meaningful they have to feel real in line with the storytelling of the world. This involves some degree of immersion and many games get by and be immersive with minimal simulation or realism, but simulation and realism helps increase the depth of it.

    And The Dark Heart of Uukrul has some strong aspects of simulation, and uses it in smart ways to make the game feel deeper.

  22. "I particularly like the way the priest starts out frustrating and a liability to the party, but by the end is a mighty fighting machine."

    This is an interesting twist on the trope from old D&D rulesets that says 'Warriors are linear, Wizards are quadratic' (referring to how their power scales as they level up). It seems in this game that it's the Priests who are quadratic!

  23. Dark Heart of Uukrul is avalible from, but with a sad story in the background as Scott Greig a.k.a Kill0byt3a who was trying to bring it back to market passed away in march 2020.


    1. I was about to report this, see that someone beat me to the punch. It was an instant-buy for me at $6.

      Glad to see this game packaged for people to appreciate.

    2. I just discovered Dark Heart of Uukrul on GOG, too. Glad it's noted on the blog. It's a very fond childhood memory in which I mostly died a lot, and then sometime after reading this I downloaded and played through the game as an adult. I figure I owed the devs at least a few bucks for all that fun, and hope this resurrection of the game rewards them a little for a great game that didn't get the recognition it deserved on the first pass.

  24. Inspired by the blog i decided to play Uukrul. I thought the automap was sufficient but already encountered an unmappable area. Now i am hesitant to start mapping on paper knowing the dungeon sprawls in all sorts of directions. Sure there must be a digital solution?

    1. As much as spreadsheet users hate seeing it done, it's pretty common for people to just do their mapping in Excel with the cells formatted into squares. If you need something more specialized, there are dozens of free mapping programs out there, too.

    2. I don't know what these "free mapping programs" are - I've certainly never found one. Excel can work, but it is really far more difficult and more intensive than it has to be.

      The simplest and best solution is Grid Cartographer. It isn't particularly cheap, but it runs extremely well and is specifically designed for classic RPGs. For many games (though not, at present, UUkrul), there's even a customized version of DOSBOX that hooks directly into GC and automatically tracks your position.

    3. Thank you for hinting me towards Grid Cartographer. Three times as expensive as Uukrul but i will give it a try.

    4. I have just gone live with my website above, and have my own freely available mapping software created specifically for old-school, blobber, CRPG games. It is called CRPG Mapper. I'd love to get some opinions on how well it does the job so if you are interested, please give it a look at

  25. a well-deserved score for a fantastic little underrated gem.

    my run-ins with this game likely started as early as 1998/1999 in the era of abandonware. it's a game that likely never shipped to the place i was living when it was new, so it just flew under the radar for me, too.

    the only magazine i was really reading at the time was ACE magazine [which was a GREAT forward-thinking publication], but their adventure and rpg section was very on-again/off-again.

    so the result was that i just never encountered this one in the wild, but have retroactively heard nothing but good things about it.

    but having tried it across the years [and finally managing to buy a legal copy from gog], it has always struck me as a fantastic hidden gem of the genre.

    re-reading your posts again, i understand entirely how you felt when you got to this gimlet: you'd been playing it on again/off again and i'm not sure that's the best way to play a game like this, but your enthusiasm for it [almost] always came through and i'm glad you discovered it, also.

    as always: thank you for your considered opinions on these games, it's always fun when you stumble across something like this and bring it to light.


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