Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Savage Empire: Seeking Home

The characters have about as much trouble finding a place to sleep as the player.
It's a tough time for the Bolingbrokes. We've had to vacate our house of 12 years while it undergoes a complete gutting and rehab, thanks to significant water damage incurred during this year's Winter from Hell. As my work keeps me in a hotel about 5/7 nights a week anyway, the consequences for me have been somewhat light, but Irene is used to the comforts of hearth and home, and shuttling around to various forms of temporary housing has worn down her nerves. On the days that I have been home, I've been occupied with helping her with the house situation. CRPG playing has naturally taken a back seat.

This isn't to say that I haven't had any time to play. I had a long plane ride from Los Angeles to Boston a few nights ago, and it would have been a perfect time to make a dent in The Savage Empire. I found myself opening DOSBox repeatedly, firing up the game, staring at the screen, and closing it. Normally, I give myself a break of 90 minutes between work "cycles" (which vary in time and intensity based a complicated spreadsheet that you really don't want to hear about) to play and blog, but this week, I've found myself preferring to do more work during those times of permissiveness. This leaves me with the question as to whether it's my mood that so disinterests me or the game itself.

Let's assume for a minute that it's the game. It's set in the same universe as Ultima VI and uses the same game engine. I loved Ultima VI. It's my second highest-rated game. Why wouldn't I at least like this one? Why would I find playing it a chore instead of, at least, a diversion from my woes? As something of a preview of the GIMLET to come, this is what I see:

1. A stupider game world. Eodon just doesn't really do anything for me. A land of dinosaurs and tribesmen ought to be more interesting than this one, which is largely based on tropes from a genre (early 1900s pulp magazines) that modern players aren't familiar with and don't care about.

2. Lamer NPCs. NPC dialogue has always been a strong point of the Ultima series, but the NPCs in The Savage Empire are somehow less interesting than the standard high-fantasy ciphers that occupy Britannia. They don't talk in ways particularly unique to their tribes; too many of them are literal copies of each other; and a lot of what they say is just goofy. There are a few notable personalities among them, but not as many as Ultima IV-VI.

3. Depressing combats with innocent animals. Combat wasn't a particularly strong feature of Ultima VI, but it's just worse here, with your own party members refusing to act most rounds and your enemies composed primarily of mindless animals like dinosaurs, great apes, and saber-toothed tigers, all of which seem wrong to kill.

4. Theft or poverty. At least so far, I haven't found many places to legitimately loot items. You either have to steal them from the huts of tribesmen or run about unarmored.

A roomful of goodies I can't take without feeling like a jackass.

5. No economy. I keep finding rubies and emeralds and such but no place to spend them. I guess this changes later, but nothing so far.

That's great. What am I going to do with emeralds?

6. Jungle camouflage. My colorblindness doesn't do well with the palette used by this game. I can't discern much of anything against the jungle backdrop. I even lose my own party members sometimes.

None of this quite adds up to a game that should exhaust me, but it does. Perhaps it's just all the other stuff in my head this month. No matter how strong the addiction, there are times that you just don't feel like playing a game.

When I broke off last time, I was heading south, aiming for the land of the Barrab, hoping to recover Topuru's "mind" so he'd tell me where the Urali hole up. I never made it. On the way, I ran into a large series of structures occupied by the Nahuatla and got wrapped up in their politics.

Tichticatl is the city of the Nahuatla, and it appears to be modeled after Aztec pyramids. The tribe was recently ruled by King Moctapotl, but he was overthrown by a usurper named Huitlapacti. Huitlapacti, in turn, is supported by an outsider named Zipactrioti, who turns out to be the missing Dr. Spector, a German scientist sucked into Eodon while fiddling with one of the corrupted moonstones. (I met his assistant, Fritz, in the last episode.) The evil duo also imprisoned the tribe's shaman, Oaxtepac.

...says the shaman who wears skulls on his headdress and earlobes.

I found Oaxtepac in his prison. Moctapotl is supposedly hiding out with the Disquiqui, who are next on my way to the Barrab. Anyway, Oaxtepac had some things to say about the overall Eodon mythology. Apparently, the Nahuatla used to reside elsewhere (like Central America) before "mighty beings" brought some of them to Eodon to be their servants. The Nahuatla rebelled and killed their masters.

As I wandered Tichicatl, every other tribesman I tried to talk with ended up attacking me. I felt bad killing so many of them, but I didn't see any other choice.

This didn't work out for your 25 predecessors.

I ran into Spector's parrot before encountering Spector himself. By repeating everything Spector had said in his presence, he gave a bit of intel. Spector himself gave the rest when I encountered him, although he kept breaking off dialogue to order nearby guards to attack. I had to leave the area, wait a bit, and return to continue the dialogue.

Between the parrot and Spector, I learned that Spector had run across some ancient technology in an hidden city called Kotl. The technology includes belts that create force fields around their wearers, protecting them from all harm. He wears one and so does Huitlapacti.

A villain more invincible than Lord British.

Spector--or Zipactriotl--says he plans to repair and reactivate the automatons in Kotl, use them to clear out the caves of the Myrmidex, and recover a giant stone that powers the belts as well as other technologies. He plans to use the giant power stone to teleport the entire city of Kotl to the heart of Washington, DC, and use his army of automatons and Myrmidex to conquer the USA, and then the world.

Just give us another decade of iPhones and Xboxes.

Oddly, despite having a diabolical plan and all, Spector, like me, seems primarily concerned with just getting out of Eodon:

"No. Do you know how to effectively negotiate with Allstate?"
There doesn't seem to be anything to do to help the Nahuatla until I can find the source of the power and turn it off. Oaxtepac indicated that the city is somewhere to the southwest. The sun has to strike a gem on the right time of day to reveal the entrance, which is guarded by a man of solid gold. But the Urali stole the gem a while back, so I have to find them first.

There's been another interesting thread among the conversations with a few NPCs. There's an evil race of "ant-things" called Myrmidex that I haven't encountered yet. NPCs like Sahree, Aiela's friend, talk about an ancient warrior named Oloro who once united the tribes against the Myrmidex. Oloro did some kind of service for each tribal chief to secure that tribe's allegiance. Then, he beat a giant drum to summon them to war.

So far, I've uncovered a few of the quests that this task would seem to require, such as rescuing the Barako chief's daughter from a great ape. I also ran across the Hill of the Drum, where a crazy guy named Tuomaxx will make a big drum for me out of an animal hide. I imagine that ultimately, I'll have to wander around to each tribe and toss the UNITE keyword at the chiefs, solve their quests, and go beat a drum. But nothing about the Myrmidex has been pressing yet.

Ascending the Hill of the Drum.

Two other notes:

  • I'm going to complain about the day/night cycle again because it's so annoying. You can barely explore half a city before it's nighttime again and you have to go find someplace to rest. Unfortunately, the game has a very wide search area when it says that you can't rest when "foes are near." You end up having to wander miles into the distance to get away from all foes, at which point you waste half the next day trekking back to your origin point.
  • I still don't know how to level up. I can't believe I haven't accumulated enough experience points yet.
  • Healing is very slow in the game. You only get back 5 for every night's rest, and casting the appropriate spell only gives you a few more while depleting scarce resources.

We'll see if my mood or the game improves over the next week. In the meantime, why don't you all head back a few posts and see if you can think of anything to say about Hack, which got a measly 13 comments despite everyone harassing  me to play it for the last three years. I finally get a post up, which uncovers some interesting stuff about the game, and...crickets.

Time so far: 8 hours
Reload count: 2


  1. I just figured that we'd get plenty of time to talk about Hack when it wins "Game of the Year 1984"...

    Seriously, I am bummed that you are not enjoying this game. I found it to be better than I expected, though with the problems that you described. I think that I found the genre to be more of an interesting experiment, rather than a dismal failure. Certainly I have never played a RPG in a universe like the one that is described here, though perhaps that is for the best...

    I played this game in a bit of a different order than you did, which I think is shaping my experience versus yours. It is an open world experience, but I hit on some exciting parts earlier. For example, I headed south and hit the battles and political scene at Nahuatla much earlier. This meant that I was able to fully arm my party with the spoils only 2-3 hours into the game, making the next round of exploration easier. It also gave me my first exciting battles that did not involve innocent wildlife.

    A small spoiler for the economy, based on an area that you passed already. Not critical and feel free to ignore:

    Gur pvgl vf ovt rabhtu gung lbh znl unir zvffrq gjb fubcf gung gnxr rzrenyqf gurer. Be znlor lbh whfg neevirq ng gur jebat gvzr.

    1. When things calm down for Irene and me, I'm going to start over with The Savage Empire, explore more carefully, take better notes, and see if I enjoy it more when my head isn't clouded with a bunch of other things.

    2. I’ll second Joe Pranevich here, as I’m also amazed. I think starting differently was it for me, I quickly found modern weapons and enjoyed a lot of exploration plus I really loved all the 1900s pulp tropes. Maybe not everyone knows and appreciates them, but I certainly grew up reading Edgar Rice Borroughs and Co. and this was like the crpg I had been waiting for since I had learned English!

  2. This game has fantastic graphic, I would like to play it some day, I hope this game is not so bad as i have red here.

    1. Your wish is granted... it's free at Good Old Games!

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. I bought this game on GoG, but I haven´t had time to play yet. Maybe some day:-)

  3. It's wrong to kill dangerous animals that are attacking you?

    1. I got a similar vibe to Chet's, so I'll give my rationale: I grew up fascinated by prehistoric creatures. The idea of observing them in their natural habitats is exciting to me. I'd rather not leave a trail of their corpses behind me.

      That said, philosophically, I acknowledge that it is difficult to separate 'bandits' and 'tigers'. The only disparity I can see, is that most people don't care if bandits are wiped out, and do care if tigers are wiped out.

    2. I've been having the same problem with woolly mammoths in Skyrim.

    3. This is a case where age, and the fact that the "intended audience" has aged definitely detracts from the game.

      If you put a 13 year old kid in 1991 in a sandbox game that includes dinosaurs, he's probably going to go and figure out how to kill them. I know I did.

      Fast forward to a 30-40 year old in turns into "wait, why am I slaughtering innocent herbivores/mindless animals"

      It definitely seemed cooler in 1991 though lol.

    4. I'd figure out how to kill them too. And then reload. But gunning them down in Jurassic Park is one thing, Chet's in a Lost World situation, and that makes it much worse.

    5. Well.... it's not like they're facing extinction. The Avatar is, in fact, helping to cull the over-population of those beasts before they run rampant and wipe out all the other more vulnerable creatures.

    6. You all mostly fleshed out my angst. Kizor, I totally agree. It's heartbreaking when you kill a mammoth in Skyrim. Netches in Morrowind, too.

    7. See, I read about you fighting dinosaurs and my first thought was "I wonder what they taste like?"

  4. "Combat wasn't a particularly strong feature of Ultima VI"

    I think Ultima 6 has by faaaar (faaaaaaaaaaaaar) the best combat system in all Ultimas. Sure, Ultima 4 or 5 can seem more tactical at the beginning, but it gets repetitive very quickly (yay, my lvl 8 party found another snake). Ultima 6 handles the very tactical to the automated in a more balanced way.

    1. I fear m y opinion remains that it took a step backward from U5. But I probably overstated the case. It's better in U6 than most games of 1990.

  5. Eek, water damage. That is never fun to deal with. We had a similarly terrible winter here in Nova Scotia, but luckily I got away without any water damage or flooding. I'm glad that I paid a dude to shovel the snow off my porch roof a couple of times, otherwise it probably would have collapsed from the weight of the snow. The crocuses are finally blooming now, several weeks later than usual. The last bit of snow melted from my driveway yesterday, though there are still a few patches on the lawn. I hope we don't see another winter like 2015 for a very, very long time.

  6. About levelling: Ultima normally has it like this:

    Level 1: 0
    Level 2: 100
    Level 3: 200
    Level 4: 400
    Level 5: 800
    Level 6: 1600
    Level 7: 3200
    Level 8: 6400

    Since U5, you have n*30 HP, where n == number of levels.

    1. I seem to believe this was accurate in the Worlds of Ultima games as well.

      Leveling up requires no effort, essentially, once the required XP is gained. There's basically no way to do it "wrong",or miss it, based on the way you are currently playing Chet.

  7. Not sure if it's a spoiler (probably not), but here's what the Ultima wiki says about levelling in Savage Empire:

    Jura rabhtu rkcrevrapr cbvagf ner ernpurq (Gur ahzore bs KC erdhverq gb nqinapr qbhoyrf jvgu rnpu yriry (100 kc sbe 2aq, 200 sbe 3eq, 400 sbe 4gu, 800 sbe 5gu, rgp.)), punenpgref jvyy yriry hc naq tnva arj znkvzhz UC nhgbzngvpnyyl hcba erfgvat. Orsber njnxravat, rnpu cnegl zrzore jub unf tnvarq n yriry jvyy unir fbzr fbeg bs "ivfvba," juvpu nyybjf gur cynlre gb pubbfr juvpu fgng gb envfr jvgu gur yriry nqinaprzrag.

    1. Yes, it´s a spoiler, but it´s in ancient Aztek, so that´s ok.

  8. Have you considered getting something like ZoomText? It has settings that allow you to adjust the whole display's color scheme.

    Of course, ZoomText is OUTRAGEOUSLY priced, but I imagine there's an alternative along those lines...?

    1. I don't know about one for windows, but on Linux systems changing the color balance is one xrandr call... A script to make red or green blink on and off so they could be distinguished would be pretty simple.

    2. Visolve looks like it might do the trick, and its free for personal use:

    3. I tried Visolve, but it just does one screen capture at a time. It doesn't run continuously while you work/play. And while it would be nice to distinguish things, I don't want to do it at the expense of making things look all screwed up, like it would if it was blinking on and off.

      I need to get those glasses.

    4. Easy/free way to mess with colour balance:
      1) My graphics cards all have panels for that (I've used both AMD and nVidia) and usually let you save profiles (for work and play, for example)

      2) Install f.lux, then just fiddle with the temperature profile. Might help if you add more blue to the colour pallet.

  9. It's so weird, I kept thinking there was something, either a line of dialogue or something in the manual, that clearly stated you could steal without consequence. Every time I played this game the knowledge that you could steal, and no one cared, was baseline.

    I reviewed a transcript of the entire game, and read the whole darn manual and could not find a mention of it.

    Then I downloaded the Clue Book, which was loaned to me with the game, when I first played it.

    Right there, on page 18 is a paragraph, told in the "voice" of Jimmy Malone called "Strange Property Values."

    I have no idea why Origin chose to leave this paragraph for the Hint Book, other than to 1) mess with players that didn't buy it or 2) quietly force players to buy it, but I'd argue it's a VERY essential read if you want to enjoy the game.

    ROT-13ing it to avoid spoilers in case you mind Chet, but again, this paragraph should have been in the included manual.

    "Fgenatr Cebcregl Inyhrf

    Gur angvirf bs Rbqba funer fbzr crphyvne inyhrf nobhg cebcregl. Rkprcg sbe pregnva uvtu zhpxl-zhpxf va gur pvgl bs Gvpugvpngy, gurl unir yvggyr pbaprcgvba bs crefbany cebcregl. Vs bar bs gurz yrnirf n objy bs sbbq be n fcrne ylvat nebhaq, ur jba'g or cnegvphyneyl hcfrg jura ur ergheaf gb svaq vg zvffvat. Va bgure jbeqf, vs lbh'er qrfcrengryl fubeg bs trne naq svaq gung lbh unir gb qb fbzr zvqavtug erdhvfvgvbavat, lbh'er abg tbvat gb znxr na rarzl-sbe-yvsr bs gur cerivbhf bjare.

    Ba gur bgure unaq, vs lbh lbhefrys yrnir nalguvat ylvat nebhaq, fbzrbar ryfr jvyy qbhogyrff jnaqre bss jvgu vg. Vs nal bs lbhe cbffrffvbaf vf veercynprnoyr, qba'g gnxr lbhe rlrf bss vg. Rire. Vs lbh qb, lbh'yy ybfr vg"

    Also, Chet, it seems like a re-read of the intro from the manual would be a good idea. There are some things mentioned in there that you seem to have missed....maybe a location they referenced........

    1. Odd, I never had the hint book, yet reading your spoiler, I could swear I remember reading that back when the game was new. I took it more of a warning to not leave my stuff on the ground than anything.

    2. I thought so too, but that's the only place I could find it.

      It's such a weird thing to only have in the hintbook. It's basically a core gameplay element, if you break it down. Why keep it secret from everyone not willing to shell out an extra $10-$15 (in 1990 money.)

    3. The only thing I can think of, is that not flagging most things as owned was a bug / feature that made it to the shipped product too late for the manual. Similarly, not leaving your stuff around could be maybe because the game doesn't save the location of stored loot after you leave an area? Ive played U6 but not this one, and I can't recall if leaving things out in the open and not in a closed chest would result in it being gone when you came back.

    4. That's possible, but it's inclusion in the Hint/Clue book seems like a blatant cash grab.

      I seem to recall that being a very un-cool trend in some games of the time. It was not rampant, but there were a few examples of this in other games.

    5. Maybe they expected you to figure it out.

  10. Sorry to hear about the house-related woes. Great entry, of course, but just wanted to pass along sympathies. I can imagine the stress.

  11. Hey Chet, are there any little things that we as a community could do/send as a 'hang in there' pick-me-up for Irene?

    1. Yeah, is there any way to non-creepily say "thanks for enabling our CRPG Addict, and we're sorry this happened"?

    2. You have my support on this. I'll chip in a few $$$ for a "sorry your house needs to be repaired" gift basket.

    3. That's very kind of you all. I think we're okay. Irene and I settled into an apartment for the next few months. (I like the apartment better than our house, which is eventually going to be a thing, but I'll cross that bridge later.) Things are returning to normal. I might be out of commission on the blog for another week or so, but after that I should be able to resume another posting schedule.

  12. Oh, I missed your question and I am not sure if anyone has answered it yet:

    You level up by sleeping, just as in U6. If you do not get a message when you sleep, you do not have anyone with enough experience yet.

    (There is very little leveling in the game though. The Avatar starts strong and by the end I think I only gained 1-2 levels for him.)

    1. Yeah IIRC you start at level 5 or 6, and since combat isn't a huge focus you do not level much.

    2. Huh? I'm quite certain it works differently. From my memory levelling up in U6 required talking to shrines once you had the necessary XP - it was nothing that just happened by the way. It is not improbable that there's a similar process in this game.

    3. There isn't. You level up by sleeping in both "Worlds of Ultima" games, after you hit the requisite XP.

    4. Very good. I guess I didn't pay attention to how high a level I started at. I'll check the experience tables next time I fire up the game.

  13. The idea of the designer of Deus Ex and Epic Mickey taking over the world is pretty funny

    1. Obdurate Hater of Rhythm GamesMay 9, 2015 at 7:03 PM

      I perfer a Kojima world order.

  14. About the 3rd screenshot - you can spend emeralds to buy weapons from NPC which is like 10 squares from this guy.


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