Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Fallthru: Hitting Limits

What I thought was the northern "border" of the game--until I found passages downward.

Since the last post, I have devoted an absurd number of hours to Fallthru--I seriously need to start doing something more productive with my summer--and the best I can say is I have a better sense of the lay of the land. So far, I've mapped both northerly and easterly coordinates as high as 750--making the known game world 562,500 total squares--although I know it extends more than this. The cliff at the northernmost part of the map turned out not to be a barrier. There are at least two places that you can go down the cliff into the desert, and I have no idea how far the desert extends. Meanwhile, at the far extent of the east is a seemingly endless series of forest squares. I suppose it's possible that there are no north and east borders; that the game just keeps generating squares in those directions until you run out of supplies and die.

As I've noted before, there's precious little to be found in all of these squares. I've found 12 cities, 2 external dungeons, a handful of inns, and a couple dozen generic farms. Some of the cities are at the ends of absurdly long rows of hundreds of squares.

In mapping this game, you have to treat it something in between a top-down game like Ultima IV (which you don't map at all) and an adventure game like Beyond Zork, where you would map and annotate every square. In Fallthru, it would obviously be crazy to map every square, but you don't just want to record locations as a series of coordinates, either, because you won't get a sense of the geography of paths that connect them. My Excel solution has space for every potential square, but mostly I'm just mapping roads and key locations.

The "flyr" has made travel a lot faster. I paid a pretty penny for it, but it was worth it. You set the device to any number between 1 and 20, and you automatically move that number of squares when you specify a direction, using only the food, water, and fatigue from having moved one square. Despite its obvious utility, it was a while before I trusted it enough to use it. I was worried I'd miss key locations or encounters on the road. But after some experimentation, I found that it stops you at any location you can ENTER or any person to whom you can say HELLO. Unfortunately, it doesn't stop at bends and turns in the road, so occasionally I find myself launched into the middle of some forest.

He said, "Hey, yo, get out' my SPACE, 'fore I PLACE this MACE in your #$*%ing FACE."

The central part of the map, where the game begins at Or'gn, is made up of farms and a fairly dense series of interconnected roads, with a farm (where you can buy food and get free water, although often food is "sold out") at every major intersection. You rarely have to go more than 20 squares before you can find a place of safety. To the south, a series of mountains rise, and most of the paths come to dead ends. One long road winds its way through the mountains for more than 300 squares before coming to an end at the city of Targ, where there's a locked dungeon I can't yet enter. Many cities have some kind of locked dungeon that requires a special key.

To the east, the road network collapses into a single road heading into dense forest, with different roads going off to cities called Rooden, Frgaz, Woren, and--way at the end of a winding trail that goes more than 500 squares and crosses a river--Riven. Rooden, and Woren both had locked doors. Woren also had a sage named Prothan who, lore says, could tell me about the demon Zugg, but he wouldn't see me unless I returned with a gold ring. I found where gold rings could be traded in Triod for 100 rubies, but so far in the game I've only found (or been given) about 14 rubies, so I'm a long way off.
There was some talk about a diamond mine in the wilds near Riven, but I didn't have any particular reason to visit yet, so I declined to waste a lot of time bushwhacking for now.
Lore tells me that my bow and arrows will help me defeat the Shabog. Oddly, there's no INFO entry on him.
The north, as I said, mostly ends at the top of a cliff, though there are two ways down to the desert, one called the "cleft" and one called . . . wait for it . . . "Waydn." The cleft has a dungeon called Hole-in-the-Wall on the way down, which I will cover in just a minute.

Finally, to the west the roads again converge into a single long road that ends at the sea, at the city of Oshan.

I haven't gotten anywhere near the 0,0 coordinate. The furthest south I've been able to go is 150, but that was way to the east, at the x coordinate of 750. It appears the southwest part of the map is all wilderness, and I run out of food and water if I try to go too far. This is true of a lot of places on the extremes.

Just running around and finding all these places took a good 8 hours. In between:
  • I seem to have hit my max combat level: 76. None of the warriors I meet are higher than 75, and no matter how many I beat, I never reach 77. Renegades have stopped attacking me, which makes sense given that lore says renegades only attack warriors they know they can beat. I'm still "too weak" to turn the valve in Black Water Cave, so clearly something else is going on there. One nice consequence of hitting the max level is that I no longer have to spend times recording the names and levels of every warrior I meet.
  • Having maxed in levels somehow doesn't bother me as much as it did in Dragonflight, perhaps because combat is such a minor part of this game and it's over quite quickly.
  • Commenter X's revelation about the HERE command saved me a lot of grief. I missed it in the documentation. Previously, I had thought everything had to pass through the hands. So if you wanted to move something from the backpack to the ground, you'd have to type MOVE FROM P01 to HAND 20 RALL and then DROP 20 RALL. It turns out you can just say MOVE FROM P01 TO HERE 20 RALL. MOVE FROM HERE TO P01 allowed me to pick up the ikons and bring them back to Or'gn for sale. For the gold ikon, I got 10 rubies.
  • The cities in the forests to the east sold bows and arrows. It turns out that the game tracks some bow (and presumably throwing knife) skill behind the scenes, and it has nothing to do with your combat level. I had a miserable time shooting at and missing wildlife before I slowly improved.
  • The economy isn't particularly strong in this game, but it's fun that as you get to the cities in the far-flung parts of the world, everything is more expensive. Bows and arrows sell for twice as much in Riven as in Frgaz, and food sells for 9 times as much as in Or'gn. Or'gn, of course, is in the middle of a bunch of farms, while Riven is hundreds of squares in the middle of nowhere. 
  • I keep forgetting to pick up my knife or arrows after throwing/shooting them. Having to replace them is annoying.
  • Thanks also to X's comments, I realized you can take a shot with a knife or arrow when combat begins. If successful, the missile attack effectively lowers the opposing warrior's level by 2 or 3 and makes it an easier combat. Unfortunately, I got this information after I was near-maxed, so it wasn't much use.
Defeating a warrior by hitting him with a knife.
  • Hitting various levels makes you immune to wildlife attacks. A piece of lore specifically says that warriors Level 3 or above needn't fear "eagen" (eagles). As I explored, I found I was a high enough level to automatically fend off berven (bears), hyens (hyenas), and other creatures. Unfortunately, no level is high enough to defeat ferven (tigers, I guess), and having to keep a lamp going every time I walk around on moonless nights is logistically annoying.

Hyen attack me and are driven off with no input on my part.

  • Some other ways to make money became apparent, including taking sacks to a mountain quarry and filling them with sand, and killing elvir (elks) and davi (deer) for their pelts. But from combats, I already have more money than I know what to do with.
  • I'm still collecting a ton of lore--about 75 entries now. They get repetitive for a while, and then suddenly I get a whole new set. I don't know if they're dependent on geography or level. I suspect the former.
I still don't know where "Thun" is, and I haven't covered any terrain of snow and ice. On the other side of the desert, maybe?

  • As far as I can tell, there is no consequence to death in the game except that you restart on your last safe square. The only problem is if you die somewhere without food or water and there's none nearby. You get into an endless cycle of starving to death, with no hope unless you have a saved game in a better place. But some foresight--keeping plenty of food in packs, keeping full canteens--keeps this from happening.
Only towards the end of the session did I start to make some progress on the main quest. I had found a bronze key beneath Slavhos, and lore told me that the bronze key opened Hole-in-the-Wall. I didn't find that dungeon (nestled in the cleft in the northern cliff) until late in my explorations.
Well, that's promising.
Like a few other dungeons I've found so far, Hole-in-the-Wall was a twisty maze of passages going in any of eight cardinal directions plus up and down, with no rhyme or reason to where they deposit you in the next chamber. You could go east from Chamber 1 to Chamber 2, and then have to go east from Chamber 2 back to Chamber 1.
To keep it all straight, I at first tried digging holes. Every time you DIG, you dig 1 foot, up to a maximum of 8 feet. I recorded the first chamber as "1H," the second as "2H," and so on. There were more than 8 chambers, so I started combining holes with ralls. "2H1R" was a room where I dug a 20-foot hole and dropped 1 rall.
It seemed to be working for a while, but then it turned out that holes close themselves after time, so I got hopelessly lost and ran out of oil for my lamp. Reloading, I tried the same strategy but with combinations of ralls and ems. This allowed me to map the entire maze, but I was unable to find anything useful, and I kept getting into an area with an endless loop that wouldn't let me leave the maze.
There was one location where I had to defeat a demon. He wasn't remotely hard, but nothing happened after I defeated him. After I explored the rest of the dungeon and found nothing, I figured there must be something special about his chamber. Since there weren't any environmental cues, I tried just digging in the floor, and it worked: I uncovered a silver key. I think the solution ought to have been a little more obvious.
I don't know what the silver key unlocks, but I have five cities--Biclif, Targ, Rooden, Woren, and Oshan--that all had locked doors, so I guess I need to try them all in turn. Maybe by next time, I'll have something more interesting to report on the story. This game is sorely testing my patience, though. The world is unconscionably large and empty, with such repetitiveness in its encounters and locations, that I really don't understand what its fans see in it. On the other hand, I grant that there's absolutely nothing else like it on my list.


  1. It has been proven in the past that you have WAY more patience than I. I would love to play this game, but I fear I would have stopped less than a half hour into it. It seems absolutely fascinating, but... Back in 2002 or so, the author said that he had lost his strategy guide. I never heard anything about his struggle to find/replace it. Has he said anything about it in your emails with him? Should he be able to provide that guide to you, I bet it would help! Is there nothing he can say via contact with him that can help you? Or have I misunderstood, and you haven't actually contacted him?

    Inquiring minds want to- well, yeah, you know.

    1. I actually haven't been able to track down the author. I think he might have passed away (I found an obituary for someone of the right name and age, though a different part of the country).

    2. Well, damn. Now the chance of ever getting the strategy guide is nil. Damn!

    3. I was wrong! I found a post he made on a web site just two months ago, which definitely post-dates the obituary of the other Paul Deal. I'm trying to reach him.

    4. The funny thing is, he lives in Albuquerque, and I have to go to Albuquerque next week. Maybe I can buy him a drink.

  2. Yeah, I despise this kind of vast, empty world. The creator just said, "Look at me, I can make a world with millions of locations! I'm so awesome! That's going in the ad!" and never bothered to put anything actually interesting in the world. Grrr. I think the first game to actually do it properly was Skyrim.

    1. It reminds me of so many of the MMO's I've played that 'failed to launch'. Anarchy Online, at launch, had massive cities each with dozens of buildings. You really felt like you were in a dense, urban environment. Unfortunately, there was no one IN the cities.

      Istaria is the same way, sort of. At launch the cities actually were well-populated and thriving, but when the game died out, the cities became abandoned.

      Kind of a sad spectacle, to be honest. Though I have no idea why someone would set out to create such an experience from the beginning.

    2. It's not quite as bad as it seems if you adjust your thinking. I'm used to text games being ADVENTURE games, where just about every screen has some kind of purpose. This is more like a tile-based icongraphic game like Ultima or Dragonflight in which the average tile is just a generic bit of forest or grassland, and there are only a couple dozen important locations on the map.

      Even thinking along these lines, though, Fallthru seems to have more emptiness than usual.

    3. Actually, I am thinking that I applaud the author's modeling of the world, while admitting that it is a poor gameplay choice.

      In every CRPG we have seen to date, the world is either "round" (which usually means that north wraps to south, which is strange if you think about it) or there are some fixed obstacles on the border such as a mountain range or an ocean. (Or, for example, Skyrim where access to other provinces are visible but you simply cannot go that way.) That adds to the gaming experience because you can set your mind around the boundary, know that you have seen everything, etc. It's a comfort and is such a part of the cRPG experience that we do not notice it anymore.

      Here the author made a more real-to-life choice by modeling a world that was effectively boundless. He still made it too big and all the challenges (and boring) that entails, but you have to give the guy credit for designing a game world in a completely different way than we've ever seen before.

    4. Making a world boundless (which we don't know if it is, or not) is different from making a huge world and then failing to give any reason to explore it.

    5. Harland: I'd have to say that Fallout 3 did a better job of this then Skyim. Just about anything you see you can explore, and there are little vignettes and secrets eveywhere.

  3. Somehow I am reminded of the quote attributed to Stalin: "Quantity has a quality of its own"

  4. Or'gn = Origin?
    I'll be waiting for a Planet of the Apes-like reveal.

    The game is like an MMORPG without other players. Or maybe the author wanted to create an early version of Minecraft. Can the game be completed at all?

  5. Did you get your answers about Corporation? I tried digging into it, and watched a bit of a YouTube playthrough video, but I cannot tell if stats are increasing or if it is just a FPS with inventory and plot. That does not make it a cRPG, but perhaps like Fallthru there are some hidden stats and leveling?

    I also thoroughly enjoyed several commentators ripping the control scheme. So, apparently it sucks.

    1. No, no one ever replied. I think I'm going to have to assume it has no character development unless someone tells me otherwise.

  6. In your last post you said the starting city, which is basically named "Origin" is at "500, 625". So one possibility that comes to mind is that the eastern border is at 1000, and the northern border is at 1250.

    1. Good guess, but I've already blown past 1,000 on the east (my blogging is far behind my playing), and it turns out 0 isn't the lower boundary (at least on the y-axis), as the game happily goes into negative numbers. My current theory is that the map is limitless and the game just keeps generating generic descriptions for the extreme coordinates.

  7. This is sounding more and more like the House of Leaves, or some CRPG horror story yet to be written. Your real foe is the world itself, and it changes and adapts to destroy even the mightiest warrior through the slow attrition of distance, fatigue and hunger.

    1. No Minotaur seems likely to mercifully rip Chet away from his computer though.

  8. I was fully expecting Hole-In-The-Wall to contain Jesse James, or at least some reference to him.

  9. You missed some lore about the silver key: it lies beneath the 7 ways of Kymira. Check out the demon room: 7 ways.

    There's more lore about Thun than just that it's in the land of snow. You should be able to find it based on a location you've already mentioned being in.

    Have you made any progress on your other sets of items?

    I kind of feel like you're being frustrated by trying things that don't make much sense. Suppose again you're in the Black Forest in medieval Germany and you try to "find the eastern border of the map" at the Pacific Ocean. Turns out Siberia is empty and boring and there are no towns or quest items! (Of course IRL, I guess you would wind up in China eventually; Fallthru does explain that the extent of civilization in Faland is quite limited.)

    1. I forget. Have you beat the game? Apparently you like it a lot. Sell me on it? Love to play. Do you have the strategy guide? Biggest thing keeping me from playing is that long lost strategy guide- I want it. Bad.

    2. That makes sense. I don't remember getting that lore, though.

      I don't know what you mean about "other sets of items." Honestly, this is the time for explicit spoilers.

      "Trying things that don't make sense." Of course they make sense. Games aren't real life. There's hardly a CRPG in the world that doesn't have boundaries to its maps. Trying to figure out the boundaries of the game world is hardly senseless just because you wouldn't do it in real life.

    3. @william: I have never beaten the game. I get stuck at one particular point in the late game. I was kind of hoping somebody here would be able to figure it out.

      @CRPG Addict: I know what you mean, and I share your impulse to push the edges of a game to make it break. But here, I'm advocating a change of perspective. Instead of railing against the boundaries and emptiness, perceive them as a different sort of boundary.

      You cannot leave the game-world map. Why? In a bad design, because you hit the edge of the map. There's no reason for it, you just stop or there's some silly impassible mountains around the world. Here, you cannot because you would die in the empty wilderness, just like in real life. You're still bound to the game world, but it's in a much more naturalistic way.

    4. Spoilers: Faland is based around triads of items: Bronze, silver and gold. You need all three of rings and amulets and at least bronze and silver keys. You also need an emerald, a diamond and the opal scimitar.

      You got the bronze key from Slavhos catacombs, which opens Hole-in-the-Wall, which gets you the silver key.

      You can buy bronze and silver rings in exchange for rubies, of which you should have found several. You can also win rubies by defeating warriors much more powerful than you are.

      You earned the silver amulet through good karma. You can get a bronze amulet by mugging a peasant, though I don't think that's how you're supposed to do it, since I'm not sure if you can survive the bad karma. You can never obtain gold items by mugging, though. I know I've found all the amulets, but I forget exactly where.

      The emerald is at Thun, the diamond is in Blak'mine, the opal scimitar is at the Eyry. (You should know all that from lore.)

      As in a usual RPG, each item allows access to further items, either by explicitly unlocking areas or by giving you new abilities that allow you to survive them.

    5. Then again, we do have people who try things that don't make sense in the real world.

      We either call them Adventurers... or Jackasses.

    6. X, you'll see another post on Fallthru tomorrow that will sound as if I didn't read this comment. Sorry for that; I had it scheduled from about a week ago. (I knew I wasn't going to be able to play/blog last week, so I wrote a bunch of posts in advance.) I'll respond more when I get caught up.

    7. Okay, caught up. Thanks for the tips. I had most of this except I didn't find the emerald at Thun. I realize now that I was assuming I'd have to take a runestone with me to Thun and decipher it there, when what the lore was really telling me was that I needed to retrieve the emerald from Thun to decipher a runestone somewhere. I'll go back.

  10. If you're wondering why I've been bereft of more posts, the tedium has been killing me. I will try to get something up but it's pretty much "grind ... grind ... grind" etc.

    Where did you find the flyr?

  11. Hey man, it's not price gouging - swords are hard to make! Points are scarce! Finest in Faland!

    1. Points are scarce? Except the ones at the end of those cheap knives apparently. I find it hilarious that spears cost more than swords.

  12. Some forms of expansiveness don't lend themselves to excitement, but to lethergy. If I wanted a chore simulator, I have actual chores to do! And with so much space, it seems far too easy to miss vital clues and hints. As with pen & paper RPG designs, sometimes CRPG designers forget that players don't know everything they know about the game.

    Return of Heracles should make for a nice break, though. Just be aware that you can't really complete the game using a single character (well, you could, but it'd be extremely frustrating to try).


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