Sunday, December 28, 2014

MegaTraveller: Space Sucks

My current quest is on line 3.

If nothing else, MegaTraveller manages to capture how difficult, expensive, and confusing it must be to travel among multiple planets. The few hours I've invested in the game have been an exercise in complete frustration.

I started by finishing exploring what I thought was the rest of Efate, hampered by the fact that the mercenaries from the first battle never went away; they just dispersed. Every so often, one would come charging at me, firing his weapon, and I'd have to run away.

I was reluctant to buy anything until I'd checked everything out, but eventually I got everyone outfitted with cloth armor, which is fairly inexpensive. There's a Traveler's Aid Society in town, but you have to be a member to enter, and the manual says that you can only get membership while mustering out of the military. There's supposed to be some cool information there, so I suppose I should think about trying again with a new character.

Aside from the two NPCs in the museum who offered to buy diamonds and "starrghrite," I didn't find anyone interesting to talk with. I found some rubies on the floor of the inn. Eventually, I made my way back to the bar where a dog-headed bartender warned me about messing with Konrad Kiefer but offered no new advice. 


A few rolls of the slot machine at the casino just lost me $400.

Indeed.

Commenter Old Man Matt had warned me that there were areas of each planet inaccessible without a special vehicle. I rented an ATV and headed out into the world. I found some emeralds in a crevice, but otherwise nothing that I couldn't have found by simply walking there. NPCs kept randomly shooting at me along the way.

I can't figure out combat in this game. At all. When it's time to fight, you're supposed to break your single-icon party up into multiple icons representing each character, then issue various movement and attack orders. Now, my party isn't well-equipped for combat anyway because only two of the five party members got weapons upon retirement, and I didn't find a weapon store on Efate. But regardless, the two characters who have handguns simply refuse to use them. I keep issuing "Fire" commands and targeting the attacking NPCs, but the characters won't fire no matter what I do. I've read the relevant section of the manual multiple times and can't figure what I'm doing wrong.

Eventually, I discovered that a texture I had thought was a wall was actually a path, and it led me to the planet's starport. Only in starport can you save the game, use the bank, buy and sell cargo, and buy equipment for the ship. The bank was particularly mystifying to me. Every shop had given me the option to let an individual character pay for an item or spend money from the "party account." I didn't see any reason not to put all of the money in the party account, so I had everyone do that. Later, I found that characters need individual funds for gambling and bribes.

Messing around transferring money from the party account to individual members.

Anyway, our ship--the Interloper--was in the starport, and I entered it to take off and explore space travel. It's similar to other space games like Starflight in that there's a distinction between intra-system travel, which is simply controlled by turning and thrusting around, and inter-system travel, which requires you to "jump" between hexes in space. Ships fly around you in the meantime, but fortunately none were attacking me.

My mission was to visit Boughene and find Arik Toryan. I was pleased to see Boughene right there on the "jump" screen and decided to head for it. Well, not so fast. "No jump possible," the screen told me. "No nav program running."

The different systems in the game.

It took me a while to figure out how to get into the computer station and load programs into the computer. Basically, on board the ship you have 7 stations to which to assign the 5 crew members: pilot, gun1, gun2, computer, engineering, and medical. The game automatically assigns crew to the first 5 of those stations, and I'm not sure how it figures out how to put who where. Anyway, to see more about one of the stations, you have to click "View" and then the station.

The various stations on the ship and the ship's current status.

On the computer station, you can load up to 6 programs, which include navigation, jump, and various combat maneuvering programs that I don't have yet. I figured out how to "Load" the program, but for the longest time, I couldn't get any loaded program to "Run" no matter how many times I hit the "Run" button.

It turns out that you actually have to wait for the program to load, in real time, which took about 15 minutes for the navigation program. Wow. I mean, I can appreciate a good simulator, but to me that carries it a bit too far.

Anyway, the navigation program was finally loaded. Time to jump! Uh, no. Now there's no "jump program" loaded. I had to repeat the navigation program process in the second slot.

One program loaded. Waiting on the status bar for the second.

When I finally had that loaded, I was able to jump--just not to Boughene. After some more experimentation and reading, it appears that the "Jump 1" drive that comes with the ship will only get you to the four systems in the lower-left part of the map. To get to those in the upper right, including Boughene, you need "Jump 2." It costs $2 million. Since I only started with $300,000, and had to buy a bunch of stuff besides, I have a long way to go.

With no compelling reason to jump anywhere, I decided to explore the Efate system a bit more. The little navigation window in the upper-right is supposed to show ships, planets, and suns, as well as your own ship, but as you can imagine I have trouble with the colors and it's just chaos to me. I eventually found that if I accelerated the ship to maximum thrust, I could identify "me" by the object that was rocketing through all the others, then kill the thrust, keep my eye on the icon, and proceed at a more sedate pace.

Flying in space obeys some real laws of physics. When you turn, you don't immediately start heading in that direction; instead, the thrust in that direction is added to the cumulative thrust from the previous direction, sending you on some middle path between the two. Keeping the thrust active imparts constant acceleration. Planets and stars exert a gravitational pull and can screw up your path. Fortunately, you can just hit a single key to stop all thrust and start over if you need to.

The sun pulls me in.

Eventually, I found myself on the planet Kra. The starport only offered saving abilities; it had no cargo, bank, personnel, equipment or fuel.

The planet also had no atmosphere. My party died the moment I stepped out of the starport.

You'd think someone could have put up a sign.

Very well, I thought, reloading. Clearly, I needed to invest in some vacuum suits back on Efate. I flew around some more and found three other planets--Llun, San, and Solon--which all had no environment, although Llun offered cargo for sale, and I recorded the prices of the various goods for later reference.

I feel like I've done this in about six games by now.

Finally, I found my way back to Efate. I spent a bunch of money restoring the fuel I'd expended and decided to have a more thorough look around. There was some kind of structure in the far northeast that I'd ignored earlier because I couldn't do anything with it. After some fiddling around, I realized that what I really needed to rent from the vehicle store wasn't a boat or ATV but a "grav vehicle," which allowed me access to a separate little city called Seara.


I entered the first building on Seara, a bar, and was immediately killed by two random gunslingers while I futilely tried to get my characters to shoot.

NPCs kill me for no reason.

The combat thing is a dealbreaker, and I need someone who's played the game to help me out, as nothing I find online has been of any use. But I'm otherwise starting to feel like I understand the game. It's clear that the visit to Boughene is not just a quick next step but rather a far-off goal, and that my immediate goal is to make lots and lots of money. At least three opportunities for doing this have presented themselves:

  • Gambling, though none of my characters have the skill.
  • Fulfilling NPC quests to get various gems and goods, though so far I've been unable to match the items I've found with NPCs who want them, and vice versa.

I don't know what they are, but I'll keep my eye out.

  • Buying cargo at one place and selling it at another, though I have to do some more exploring and recording of prices to see how that will be profitable.

It's also possible that killing these random NPCs who keep shooting me will gain some rewards. The manual suggests that you can make money "pirating" other ships, but that just seems wrong.

While waiting for someone to reply with any help on combat, I'm going to start over, see if I can get a party member with Aid Society membership, and buy vacuum suits and extra oxygen tanks for everyone so I can explore the other planets. I'll take notes on the cargo prices in the area and see if I can make any money that way.

Not a great start, but here's hoping it gets a little better.

29 comments:

  1. It' been many years since I've played this title, but if I remember correctly, it should have a real-time and a sort of turn-based mode. If you are fighting a simple enemy, you go into combat mode and select your best fighter, select fire, and click on the enemy until it falls over. Otherwise, you go to turn-based mode and order everyone to fire (by select them, select fire, and click on target) and then start combat, I want to say spacebar or enter worked, but it might have been an icon.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. This only works effectively on version 3 of the game.

      Chet, which one are you running? There should be a space background on your chargen screen, not grayness.

      Delete
  2. Wow - this game sounds absoutely brutal. Thanks again, Chet, for playing and documenting these 'treasures' of the past!

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  3. >It turns out that you actually have to wait for the program to load, in real time, which took about 15 minutes for the navigation program.

    Heh, that got me to musing a bit. That's a mindset that comes from the era when Traveller was originally written; if you had access to a computer at all, whether it was cheap or expensive, there was a universal truth about almost every one: you spent a lot of time waiting for it.

    My first hypothesis was that the game was, perhaps, designed on a C64, where you *really did* have to wait 15 minutes to load some programs, but Wikipedia says Amiga/ST/PC, so things were starting to get a little better. But you still did plenty of waiting, even on those (relative) miracle machines.

    The thought of having multi-gigahertz, multi-core workstations with gigabytes of memory, sitting on your *desk*, was so far-fetched that if something that cool was in an SF novel, it would have to be a major plot focus. (see: Neuromancer). There's no way you could get away with something that magical and unrealistic without a lot of explanation.

    Oh, and on your weapon problem, the thoughts occur: do you need ammo? Maybe energy cells? Do you need to load the weapons?

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    1. Mega Traveller, with Mega Realism

      "This is tech support. Dave speaking. Please state the nature of your difficulty."

      "Hi, I'm having trouble firing my neutrino lasers at the bad guys."

      Dave sighs. "Did you plug in the Pauli igniter?"

      "Oh, hehe, no, sorry, thanks!"

      Delete
  4. I think the problem lies in that the game follows the actual RPG too literally, the original traveller comes with actual equations for travelling between the stars and assumes that your players would actually make the calculations them selves as part of the adventure.
    The dying part is also straight from the rule books and in reality makes a very little sense in the context of creating a character background.

    Nav computers likely have a waiting time because calculations are supposedly so complicated but as usual for the era no one has actually play tested the game aside from a dev team checking that the game runs with a debugger.
    Hence you have to wait for literal 15minutes, though, have you checked if the calculations keep running once you exit the ship ? Or if you leave one man to run the calculations ?

    Also is your pistol actually loaded and safety set off ? Considering how literally developers seem to have interpreted the actual RPG manual.

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    1. Please, please don't blame the Traveller TRPG for this abortion of a CRPG.

      People complain about the whole dying-in-chargen routine, but that's there only to discourage people from serving twelve terms before gameplay, because it would break the game.

      As far as I remember, program load time is not affected by anybody's Computer skill, but I could be wrong. The reason for the interminable waiting is explained in a different comment below.

      MT1's guns don't have safeties. They do run out of ammo fairly often, and ammo is (very annoyingly) attached to the individual weapon, such that you can be carrying multiple laser pistols with different numbers of clips glued on. Ammo can't be bought unless you have the gun, and it can't be transferred to other players by itself. The whole thing is really stupid.

      Delete
    2. The idea behind character death was to make character creation a mini-game. As you go through the process, you're gambling a bit: try for another term to score another skill or two, or muster out and keep what you have? It adds a neat feel to chargen, but I can understand why people who see it for the first time blanche.

      Delete
  5. Hey Chet you once asked about actual RPG's well here's an audio about traveller RPG session which I hope enlightens the situation a bit and what CRPG makers futilely attempted to achieve in these early RPG games.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FpPLLYDvwXk

    also have you tried these https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wDzHcitshGo for clues on how to progress ?

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  6. I feel.... your pain. Looks like they wanted to put everything into this game, realistic space navigation, trading, a bit like Elite with an RPG component. The controls are needlessly complex. Such games probably want to revolutionize the gaming industry by doing everything 'realistic', i.e. complex and slow, but they end up being a total failure, and after all, the trend in gaming has been in the other direction, as especially RPGs effectively demonstrate. Everything gets simpler, more visual and less described by text, plus, there is less micromanaging going on, so that now the games almost play themselves and the role of the player is reduced to choosing a dialogue option to advance the plot towards a certain direction.

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  7. Except for the character generation, this game sounds like a real piece of metabolism discharge matter.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hey Chet,

    I've been reading your blog for years in the background but comment for the first time. Have you checked the 'Abandonia' review for the game? It comes with some helpful clues about combat, space travel etc.
    Here is the link:

    http://www.abandonia.com/en/games/660/MegaTraveller+1+-+The+Zhodani+Conspiracy.html

    Best of luck, it's always an interesting read...

    ReplyDelete
  9. I got this game as part of a pack many many years ago and without access to new games within a 100 miles I played all the games to death. It took me ages to get into this one but when I did it was very enjoyable. Combat was hard to get used to but ended up being enjoyable as it was a good way to get weapons and loot. This PDF http://www.mocagh.org/miscgame/megatraveller-alt-refcard.pdf has a tiny bit on the combat.

    As far as I remember, once the party was broken up for combat, you could hit "1","2" etc (or "F1", "F2") to select a party member and then double-clicking the enemy made them shoot. So maybe you need to make sure that you have selected a weapon-carrying member during combat? I think the character graphics have some way of displaying that.

    You could break up the party for combat, without an enemy near, for practice I think. Possibly save a game and shoot a few innocents to see how it works!

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    1. Um, yeah. Do save the game first, because some of the pedestrians will shoot back, and before long a police warbot will come and blast you all to bits. And remember that your armor is still next to useless, especially against lasers or anything stronger (plasma, grenades, rockets).

      By the way, Chet, I don't know why you couldn't find any weapons on Efate. They have the slackest gun control in the subsector. Maybe try looking in the gravitic city? I think that the gun shop is there.

      By the way, if you see a white-colored NPC, they're harmless nobodies. Olive-green NPCs will give information or fetch quests or whatever. Black NPCs will shoot to kill, so shoot first.

      Fun fact: Efate is named for a real place, pronounced "EFF-a-tee". GDW tended to be pretty lazy in coming up with planets' names. For one thing, an entire cluster's worth of them are named for legendary swords ("Come visit scenic planet Orcrist!"), for reasons that are inscrutable in-game. Also, a bunch of the worlds near Earth are named after Sumerian things (Gilgamesh, Enkidu, Lagash), but they pretend that those names are supposed to be Vilani (which turns out to be a mélange of Sumerian phonemes, Basque grammar, and the Hepburn romanization of Japanese).

      Delete
  10. Also found this which could also be true:


    There is one thing you'll probably want to do if you play either game, and that's crank your CPU cycles 'way down. Your team will be attacked as soon as they're off the ship in almost every space port you enter, and you need to stop and split everyone up to return fire (with the 'p' key) fast. (The 'p' key is actually the party access key, but it also automatically pauses the game). In fact, IIRC, you begin MT 1 with an immediate shoot-out in a bar, so remember that this game was designed to run on a 386 and set your cycles accordingly!

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  11. Let's recap: Tens of billions on dozens of worlds are imperiled by Ine Givar terrorists and imminent Zhodani blitzkrieg, but the Imperium knows nothing about it. Instead, some megacorporation (and one that mainly sells consumer entertainment, at that) finds out that one of its execs is a traitor (in spite of there being no good reason to be). Well, instead of going to the responsible authorities, this woman at the company just walks into a bar and approaches five random veterans lacking armor or weapons or spacesuits and who don't even necessarily know each other (they're just sitting at a table). Then she entrusts these dudes with a sekrit mission to deliver a package to some other bar, off in the next subsector.

    To this end, she tosses them the keys to the most basic starship available, lacking any pre-installed computer programs or weapons, and equipped with a jump drive that can't go further than a parsec without refueling, and therefore can't get to the drop point. The Interloper (what a name) might as well be a Ford Pinto with no tires. Collecting the money necessary to upgrade the ship and outfit your party takes many, many weeks of game time, which is more than enough time for the Zhos to blitz through most of the Spinward Marches. Oops. (Good thing the game doesn't keep track of time and impose a limit!)

    This is why I complain that MT1's plot isn't up to Traveller's standards at all. It's one thing in a crap fantasy for the king to expect a no-account to save the world, and yet give the poor guy no help; but Traveller is supposed to be serious business. In this case, Games Design Workshop allowed Paragon to write the game's plot by themselves -- a big mistake, which was corrected for MT2.

    BTW, here's the rationale behind your ship's computer's taking forever to load programs. You can hold more programs in memory banks than you can run at the same time (fair enough). The number of useful programs also exceeds the number you can run (okay). Therefore, if you're trying to blast some ship in the late game, you'll want Auto-Evade and Maneuver and Missiles and so on -- but then you won't have enough RAM to load Jump-2 (uh-oh). Therefore, in a starship duel, you have to make a choice between preparing an all-out attack or retaining the ability to flee (hmmm). The arbitrary delay in switching out programs in combat makes this choice more fateful (oh noes!), and therefore it's supposedly more "exciting". You can judge for yourselves how fun this actually is.

    Funny that flying around in-system, normally computer-assisted and taking hours, plays out in (vastly accelerated) real-time and is counter-intuitive. It's sort of Newtonian, but not really -- a lot like Asteroids. But at least you can't crash into planets or stars. Also, life support's not a concern ... unless/until an attacking ship blows it out. That's when Engineering skill will decide whether you reload or get to the next planet.

    Speaking of which, saving is permitted only at starports, but in this case it's not a sign of the developer's integrity. It's just another of the many forms of fake difficulty with which Paragon artificially inflated this game's playing time, in the (mistaken) belief that this would maximize the buyer's "value for money".

    ReplyDelete
  12. Here are a couple more miscellaneous things.

    The dog-headed bartender is a Vargr, a major race in Charted Space that are basically sentient wolves. (Somewhere else, you see a shopkeeper who's an Aslan; they look sort of like lions. Other alien-looking things are made-up for this game.) Coynes are artifacts of the Droyne, another major race that are pretty much giant bugs. These are some little bits of Trav flavor that the developers threw in to make it look like this was actually a Traveller game, but that isn't enough to make it one.

    There are two forms of starrghrite: an ore that's tradeable on the interstellar market, and a rock that you get in a loot drop. They're not interchangeable. All those guys asking for crap are just giving you a place to dump your loot drops, but I wouldn't waste jump fuel to go there. You might spend more in fuel than the guy gives you (it's like 500 credits, usually). If you've got free inventory slots and you're headed to the relevant planet, okay; but otherwise, don't worry about that crap.

    Vehicles are actually necessary to get to important places on planets, so be glad one of your partymembers has all three skills. Just be careful not to ding the thing (like, say, if angry blue gila monsters on the beach get too close to it), or you'll forfeit the cash deposit.

    The whole "party account vs. individual spending money" issue is really dumb, but I can think of other CRPGs that messed this issue up in similar ways, so I won't complain about it.

    Cloth armor is okay with respect to slugthrower firearms, but anything better than lasers has a high enough penetration factor to tear your guys to shreds. The basic vacc suit is better protection. Try to hold out for the Combat Armor or Battle Dress, though.

    You're expected to know whether or not planets have atmospheres by having your Scout character use Survey skill from orbit, then consulting the Universal World Profile section of the manual. Yeah, I know, this is stupid as hell, but them's the breaks. Just make a note about the planet, then reload.

    Piracy is unsustainable in the long-term because the Imperium will start sending warships to hunt you down. Also, merchant vessels shoot back, and the resulting repair costs are kind of awful.

    Blowing away random psycho killers is surprisingly lucrative, as it turns out. Did you read the very end of the manual? Did you notice what the Vargr bartender said about Kiefer? Have you seen the news item in the library about the police on Alell and their wanted list?

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    1. Chet, I just thought of something. Assuming that you're willing to sacrifice the cash deposit on an ATV rental (due to vehicular damage), you can rent a car and run those bastards over with it. They'll shoot back while you're approaching, but the car has better armor than you (for now), and it will successfully flatten people. Try it out!

      Delete
  13. I told myself I'd give Megatraveller 1 another try after being told I wasn't supposed to win the first battle, but after this post I think I'll pass. Doesn't seem to be a lot of fun to be had here.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. @Raifield: Fun? Not really. Neither Trav players or non-players will find much of anything to like here.

      I would never have bothered beating MT1 if not for Trav geek completionism, (dubious) bragging rights (on version 2!), subclinical OCD, and sweet, sweet revenge.

      But that probably wouldn't do it for you, so you're well advised to pass on it.

      Delete
  14. Tip about trading: lbh pna znxr YBGF bs zbarl ol fryyvat jngre ng n qrfreg cynarg

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    1. True, but you'll still need about a full year's worth of trading in order to accumulate the necessary cash for swag that all seasoned travellers already own (they don't mention it in-game, but each jump takes a week).

      But it's cool, the Zhodani conspiracy will wait for you. It's not like you need to hurry up or anything. Besides, didn't that guy ask you politely to retrieve that cultic idol from the desert nomads' encampment? Now that's a priority!

      Delete
  15. Just reading the patch notes for the version I have from Abandonia...

    For version 2:
    The Character Generator has been changed to more closely follow the
    original MegaTraveller concept. As a result, some of the skill
    tables have been altered. The previous generator made characters
    more suited for the computer game.

    This makes it seem like they changed the character creation to make it less useful??

    Also in version 3 apparently they made the enemies tougher, apparently because they made an improvement to the interface.

    Very odd.

    ReplyDelete
  16. When I had a quick play again the other week, I also got to planet kra quite quickly, only had 3 die from lack of vacc suits though :) Armourwise I would say anything below a vacc suit is pointless, battle dress is certainly worth it (my first goal in mt2 is getting everyone a suit).
    From the screenshot in the bar above, you do seemto have an empty gun with 3 reloads, the grey vertical columns show how many rounds you have loaded, I don't know if this has anything to do with your combat troubles.
    Completely missed the flying city in efate, walked around the base and couldn't get in so went back, forgot the atv/grav are not just conveniences in this one

    ReplyDelete
  17. I have many fond memories of this game on the Amiga -- it was the first true CRPG that I played through and completed, though to be honest I don't know how it would stand if played by my more jaded, time-restricted present-day self.

    I do remember jumping out of my skin the first time I stepped out of a starport into a world with no atmosphere and having most of my party scream as they died. I remember regularly going to the starport to collect my old age pension (every one of my characters was a retired veteran). I remember trying to land on small moons by gradually decelerating onto the few pixels that represented them, missing continuously and eventually spiralling out in the blackness of space, completely out of fuel. I remember doing trading runs to Louzy delivering water to pay for my Jump-2 drive. I remember engaging in ship combat exactly once, winning, and, upon seeing the countdown to loot the stricken enemy vessel before it self-destructed, immediately panicking and running away without collecting any salvage. I also remember one of my characters (the Navy veteran I believe) starting with the most valuable pistol in the game -- the neural pistol, that apparently disrupted the brain patterns of anyone it shot -- and having absolutely no idea if it actually did anything whilst the rest of my group dealt with enemies using good old heavy laser weaponry.

    An old favourite of my childhood, so a part of me wants people to like this game, but I suspect my memories are rose-tinted. I also wonder if, aside from the usual graphics and sound, there are any other significant differences between the playability of the Amiga and PC versions?

    ReplyDelete
  18. Sorry you didn't enjoy this one. I remember really liking it, but it was 20 years ago and I can't explain why today. My only real memory from it is that there was something I had to buy near the end of the game in order to progress that was crazy expensive (perhaps a Jump Drive?) and I had to do the same trade route, over and over, for many hours to get enough money. It didn't really bother me at the time though. Ah, to have the free time of a teenager again!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Keep reading, my friend.

      20 years ago, with little else to occupy my time, I might have felt better about it.

      Delete
  19. I've got to say, I think the one area in which games are almost universally better today then in this era is in terms of UI. There are a few areas where they do it poorly in terms of making things too minimal, but you'd never see something with so many badly hidden bits and bobs.

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    1. That's true. I was thankful of what Ultima 6 did. It was able to condense all 26 keyboard commands from Ultima V into 7 commands.

      Because it freaking makes sense. If you are going to boil some potions, you 'use' herbs on a cauldron. This is sensible simplification right there. You don't have to 'take' out herbs, 'drop' them in the cauldron, 'stir' some shit up, 'burn' some fire to heat up the cauldron and whatnots.

      Being able to do more things with less steps is the improvement we have seen thus far. What I don't like is the dumbing down of literally everything in modern CRPGs. We want simplification of manual tasks, not simplification of plot and design.

      Delete

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