Sunday, November 29, 2015

Martian Dreams: Emulation Nightmares

As far as I can get. The game freezes if I try to move one step further east.
   
You are going to find this posting truncated for the following reasons:

  • Every version of the game I can find has a bug (at least for me) by which once you cross the 180 meridian with a sextant in your possession, you can no longer save your progress. This remains true even if you go back to the other side of the meridian. Both crossing the meridian and tracking your progress with a sextant are pretty vital to the game.
  • There is no no-DOS version of the game, so I can't switch to another platform. (Side note: I really think MobyGames users should stop tagging games with "Macintosh" and "Windows" releases just because the game is available for those platforms through GOG. All GOG does is bundle them with a customized version of DOSBox. The same goes for games released on "virtual consoles." If a game wasn't coded specifically for that platform, it shouldn't count.)
  • I did download a version of DOSBox with save states, but if I try to load a save state after closing and re-opening the emulator, the emulator immediately crashes. (Yes, I know you have to start the executable first.)
  • Even if I load a save state during the same session that created it, the keyboard generally does not work upon re-loading, at least for a few minutes (but sometimes it never comes back).
  • Even if I'm willing to play mouse-only, the game simply locks up entirely at certain places. It freezes every time I try to cross the canyon to Noctis (below), for instance.
       
I know that many of you have played the game successfully with DOSBox, with or without a save-state version, so I'm not sure how to account for the differences. I've fiddled with every setting that I can think of (including increasing and decreasing the CPU speed and changing the emulated machine). Thus, the game is going to have to go on the "NP" (not playable) list until someone comes up with a permanent solution or I try again on a completely new system configuration.

It's been long enough that it might be worth re-reading my first posting for the basic setup. In my re-start, just to defy the game's official narrative and images--and to further distance myself from the "real" Ultima series--I created a female protagonist named Inez after Inez Milholland. I didn't see a good women's suffragist on the list of dignitaries, and I've always liked Ms. Milholland. You probably haven't heard of her, so go ahead and read her Wikipedia article. If she hadn't died tragically in 1916 at aged 30, she would have been the flappiest flapper of the Jazz Age.

Inez bursts onto the scene in her very plain dress.
      
For whatever reason--I guess they were disguised as authentic 1890s citizens before blasting off--Inez starts the game wearing a dress. My first act was to dress her in pants and an overcoat. As before, I talked to the various people aboard the second capsule and stocked up on weapons and utilities before heading off in search of the first capsule that had brought Curie, Earp, Edison, et. al. to the Red Planet.

Spector responds to the SAVAGE keyword.
    
My capsule is at 27S, 146E, and the crashed first capsule is at 28S, 153W. Never dreaming that these coordinates were global, and that I'd be able to explore the entire planet, I set out west to find the capsule only to encounter an impassable canal. Apparently, what I needed to do was go east and cross the 180th meridian. A degree in this game is four steps, so it doesn't take very long to cover large distances. I could circumnavigate the planet, apparently, in 1,440 steps.

Without much trouble and in relatively short order, I reached the wreckage of the first capsule. It was empty except for a single man named Lieutenant Gibbs, commander of the "ceremonial guard" at the British pavilion at the World's Fair (from which the first capsule had been accidentally launched). In a very long bit of exposition, he filled me in as to what happened to the occupants of the first expedition. Apparently, they tried to repair the capsule and build a new cannon to return to Earth, but they ran out of steel. The group split into four expeditions to find iron, but somehow they morphed into four separate factions with their own goals.

Origin, the British pronounce it "leftenant." They don't spell it that way.
  
The first group, led by Buffalo Bill and Calamity Jane, set up a trading outpost northeast of the crashed capsule at Arsia Mons. Dibbs suggests we go there next for supplies. The second, led by astronomer Percival Lowell, went to the Martian city of Elysium, where they found a working Dream Machine. (Apparently, all Martian cities have them, but most are in a state of disrepair.) The party had hoped to use the Dream Machine to communicate with Earth, but instead it drove everyone mad.

The third group, led by someone named Jack Segal (I can't find a good historical contender; it's probably not the composer who wasn't born until 1918), settled at Olympus, where construction of the space cannon had begun. They've now fortified the site against anyone "contaminated" by the Dream Machine. The final party, a "secretive" group led by Grigori Rasputin, went to the Martian city of Argyre, apparently in an effort to investigate dangerous Martian technology.

As for the Martian cities and technology, although there's no sign of any sentient Martians, they apparently left behind four advanced cities: Elysium, Olympus, Argyre, and Hellas (they were named by the explorers, not the Martians). The latter is inhabited by a guy named Marcus who split off from Lowell's group. Dibbs also warned me that to survive on Mars, I'd have to learn to content with the extreme cold and the low-oxygen atmosphere. Fortunately, there exists on Mars an element called Oxium that, when chewed, releases oxygen. It's apparently so valuable that it's being used as currency. I tried to (U)se one that Dibbs had, but the game told me that I will "chew it instinctively" when needed. Sure enough, in the next couple of steps I got a message that everyone "breathes easier," and the penalties to the characters' attributes went away, but 4 of Dibbs's 20 Oxiums disappeared.

Dibbs automatically joined the party and we set out for the trading post as he suggested; fortunately, Dibbs had coordinates to all of the locations and cities. Along the way, we were attacked by "sextellegers," and I found out the hard way that my Belgian Combine, which I had set to "shotgun" mode, damaged any characters in between me and my intended target. This is the first game that I recall that correctly depicts shotgun pellets spreading with distance, although I think perhaps Martian Dreams overdoes it. (It is, to be fair, only the third game I can think of with shotguns, the first two being Wasteland and Captive.) Anyway, we killed the alien beasts in short order. There didn't seem to be anything productive to do with the corpses, so I carried on. A couple more attacks followed.

Inez has just fired a shotgun at the "creeping cacti" to the south. Note that by the time the blast is two squares away from her, it's already spread out to include one square on either side.
    
By the time I reached the trading outpost, Inez was heavily wounded. (I had switched to a saber at some point because the shotgun kept hitting my allies.) Buffalo Bill Cody introduced himself and said that he and Calamity Jane trade various goods for Oxium. Apparently, they're the only store on the planet except for one set up by William Randolph Hearst at Olympus. Jane gets Oxium from Cooter McGee, who's been prospecting "in the labyrinths of Noctis" but has been subjected to raids from Rasputin's band at Argyre. Jane asked if I'd go to Noctis and see what happened to him. They gave me an additional 30 Oxiums to help with the quest.

Buffalo Bill gives me the next step on my quest. If you've never had a chance to visit his grave on Lookout Mountain in Colorado, I recommend it. The views west from the parking lot are spectacular.
    
I returned to my capsule briefly to get healed up by C. L. Blood, then set about following Buffalo Bill's directions to Noctis. I had to go far north to cross a canal bridge before heading back southeast. Apparently, finding bridges to cross the canal network is going to be a significant obstacle to navigation, although Dibbs has given me the coordinates to a bunch of them. I've found levers in some places that might lower other bridges, but there's no power to the network.

Crossing a canal.
      
And that's about all I can tell you. The game freezes every time I reach a particular part of the canyon, in the midst of a fight between some "jumping beans," although I've tried killing all the jumping beans first and it still freezes.

Some miscellaneous notes:

  • It might change later, but so far the game hasn't been making great use of these historical figures beyond using their names. I got no particular sense of character from Cody or Jane. The fictional Lt. Dibbs has the most character of any of them.
  • Similarly, the Martian landscape is mostly just boring and its creatures unimaginative. Granted, I haven't seen the cities yet.
  • There are several books to read. So far in my chronology, I only remember this game and the original Ultima VI having in-game books.

Apparently, the third Worlds of Ultima title was going to be set in Arthurian Britain. It was never released.
        
  • In case anyone missed it in the comments, someone created a Wikipedia article for the obscure C. L. Blood (so obscure I didn't think he was a historical figure at all). Despite its recency, it is quite long and well-researched. It was created two days after my first Martian Dreams post, so I don't think that was a coincidence. [Later edit: And it wasn't! The author wrote to me by e-mail and confirmed that the post inspired the article.]
  • Unlike The Savage Empire, here you can turn off music independent of the rest of the sound.
  • One of the useful objects from the capsule is a spyglass. When (U)sed, it shows you several screens in a given direction. Oddly, using it to look east at the point the game freezes also causes it to freeze--there's something about the graphics on the other side of the canyon that someone doesn't want me to see.

Using the spyglass to see enemy activity to my east.
          
And now, regrettably, the game goes on hiatus, at least until I get a new computer in December. Normally, I wouldn't think that would help, but since the game seems to work for everyone but me, it's worth a try. In the meantime, we'll be finishing up Shadowkeep and moving on to Disciples of Steel (1991).

58 comments:

  1. Chet, there is one more option you might try. You can download VirtualBox and create a Virtual Machine running Linux or Windows (you don't have to activate it for a few weeks, so you have time). That abstracts all of your hardware and might handle whatever the true problem is (driver bugs possibly). It might be worth a try if you're looking for a solution.

    -j

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    1. I don't know. I'll try that, I guess, if things don't work with my new laptop. I'll be ordering it in a couple of weeks.

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    2. I just got it to run in VirtualBox. No dice. It freezes when I save near the 180 meridian, same as in DOSBox.

      It's unlikely that a new laptop would help. The software is running on an emulator. The whole point of emulators is to hide your host system configuration from the software, and to ensure it works the same on any host. Even DOSBox doesn't care all that much about what drivers you have on your system, and if that was the problem, you'd be seeing problems at the DOSBox level, not at the game level.

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    3. I had played through Martian Dreams in DOSBox before without any problems, so I fired up the GOG version on my laptop. I didn't specifically try saving near the meridian, but with just normal instinctual use, I, again, didn't have any problems. I should try the meridian saving that is so popular these days, but I used the telescope and sextant as one normally might.

      I was able to walk through the labyrinth to save Cooter, and over to Olympus, and around the canals up to the north pole with no issue. So, either I happened to avoid all the problems that others have reported, or there is something that is system-dependent.

      It is strange that this particular game would affect DOSBox this way, since it is an emulator... but it has to display graphics and play sounds, so it will interact with drivers at some point, and the game will affect the pattern of access, so it's not inconceivable.

      Has anyone who can repro the problem tried disabling all the sound card emulation, or changing the DOSBox renderer or scaler or cpu speed or memory or ..? I used both the GOG packaged DOSBox and my own installed version, but I can't say I tried them both exhaustively.

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    4. Obdurate Hater of Rhythm GamesDecember 1, 2015 at 12:23 PM

      I just got the Leisure Suit Larry games and the Space Quest collection to work in DOSBox. They had some problems, such as Leisure Suit Larry 6 missing a line in the config file required to use the mouse and Space Quest 4 not working and forcing me to download it elsewhere, but I eventually got them all working and I can now relive the fun of Sierra.

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    5. It's not just DOSBox. I tried it in VirtualBox too, exact same issue. This also rules out a file interaction bug, because VirtualBox uses a VHD disk image.

      The evidence is firmly against it being system-dependent, or at least driver dependent. A driver issue would make DOSBox itself have problems. That's not what's going on; DOSBox is perfectly responsive, and it keeps emulating a virtual CPU, and that virtual CPU is stuck executing an infinite loop within the game engine. Driver interactions could conceivably be affected by the emulated code execution path, but not the other way around.

      Also, I made it freeze while saving on two different emulators, on three different systems, one of them being a 32-bit WinXP machine.

      I did try messing with Dosbox's settings. I disabled sound, midi, EMS/XMS/UMB, and used low CPU cycles. It still locks up when I save repeatedly near the meridian.

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    6. What about simply using snapshots in VirtualBox? Chet had problems with the savestate build of DOSBox, but this should work fine as a workaround, shouldn't it?

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    7. Could be worth a shot, but if you were to go that route, I think you'd need to start a new game, and never use any manual saving. The nature of the bug seems to be that if you save too often in the wrong place, your game gets put into an unstable state where saving or doing certain actions makes it freeze. If your game is freezing and you don't have backups, it's already too late.

      Personally, next time I play this game, I'm still going to use DOSBox, and just keep backups and try to avoid saving near forests/the 180 meridian/whatever places seem problematic. VirtualBox is a pain to use.

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    8. Well, I was able to reproduce it by starting a new game, leaving the capsule, and saving after every three steps I walked east.

      But, I loaded my old game, and did the same thing and had no problems saving. So, I agree, it must be a bug in the original game. But, it's one that I never encountered before, and also one I somehow managed to accidentally squirm out of in the game I had just been playing.

      But that means that someone who has a game in a good state should be able to give it to Chet and get him past the bad state. I could give you my game, and am happy to, if you want it, but it turns out to be quite a bit further along than your narrative.

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  2. I've tried several times to get into Martian Dreams and Savage Empire. There's something about the graphics that makes everything seem awash to me, and I can't tell anything apart. It's a screen full of blobs, in a world I'm not interested in. It's a pity, because a lot of people speak highly of those games, and I really like the idea behind Worlds of Ultima.

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    1. It's good to hear you say that, because I have the same problem, only I assumed it was just my color-blindness. I think I said it in my Savage Empire summary, but in that game everything looked like it was literally camouflaged.

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    2. It's the perspective, for me. It feels like everyone is about to fall over or something.

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    3. Obdurate Hater of Rhythm GamesDecember 1, 2015 at 2:45 PM

      Albion is the worst example: It is nearly impossible to tell which items are usable, the difference between wall and doors, where to go, how to get there, the range of your enemies in the grid-based combat, and lots of other important information. Also, due to the horrible interface, if you select something that looks like an useful item but turns out to be nothing, the cursor will change position when you exit the pointless window that appears, which makes things even worse. I want to love Albion, but the game is unplayable.

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    4. If you want to play Albion, a small hint: everything you can steal from homes is useless. I don't know why anybody bothered to put 100 useless buckets in this game.

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    5. succinum: 100 useless buckets in a game seems awfully close to Oblivion/Skyrim. I believe that it boils down to a creation of "rich world", where there are thousands of objects. Granted, in Skyrim a lot of them are useful in some way, say pickaxe or axes (for wood chopping I think, I never did this), but there thousands upon thousands of useless junk - embalming tools, linen wraps, skulls, cloth (it's debatable since you can enchant some of them I believe, but in fact most of this stuff can't event be sold for any real money, so stealing these items and selling them to a fence is in my opinion a sign of great desperation or great dedication) and others. That's one end of scale. On the other one you have games where everything is required at some point, so you don't have to think about what to take or leave - "if it isn't bolted down, i need this".

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  3. Jack Segal is probably from Ashtalarea's history rather than Earth's.

    Could you provide saves immediately before crossing the save-bug-inducing meridian or the freeze-bug-inducing canyon? Maybe one of your readers can figure out what the problem is.

    If not, then there's also the Ultima VI engine re-creation Nuvie. Does anybody know what the status of its support for Martian Dreams is? Is it completable.

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    1. Only Ultima VI. Martian Dreams is still a WIP.

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  4. "I really think MobyGames users should stop tagging games with "Macintosh" and "Windows" releases just because the game is available for those platforms through GOG."

    MobyGames (and GameFAQs) classification can be annoyingly vague and confusing. For instance, the fact that Famicom Disk System games are lumped under the "NES" header on MG irks me to no end. I don't know if you've ever used rfgeneration.com, but they do it best, in my opinion. Steam and GOG.com are listed as separate "platforms" from PC and Mac, which is how it should be.

    /sidebar.

    Good luck with the tech issues. The game is considered "supported" by DOSBox according to the DOSBox website, for whatever that's worth.

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    1. This is a controversial subject even among Mobygames approvers and admins, who when the matter arises in their forums will jokingly refer to the site as "MobyReleases" and that they document not individual games, but official releases and re-releases by the title's publisher. In cases such as these, the ruling is that although the game is an MS-DOS game, modern releases cannot be installed and played without Windows, which makes Windows the lowest common denominator platform for legitimate purchase and play of the game.

      There are obvious pros and cons to this approach, which soothe and inflame different groups; this is consistent with how physical retro compilations are handled for collectors, and crazymaking for everyone else.

      The intention is basically to indicate on what hardware platforms legitimate (meaning "as intended by the game's rightful developer / publisher") play of games is possible: "if I own platform x, can I play game y?" Well... yes, but see the small print.

      It gets complicated when you consider that companies such as Sierra and Infocom (among others) wrote their games to compile to a "virtual machine" of sorts, which meant that cross-hardware play was throttled only by how good their interpreters for those machines were. The distinction between an emulator and those interpreters is a fine one.

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    2. That's simply not true, as DosBox works on a number of platforms, not just Windows. And many GOG releases are officially for Mac and Linux.

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    3. Well, to be fair, MobyGames lists those as available platforms, too. I still think it's stupid. Any game released on a platform for which Windows has an emulator had a "Windows" release.

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    4. Also that doesn't make sense,- FreeDos has existed for years and will run on modern machines. (Now I have a hilarious picture of Chet running Martian Dreams on an old laptop running FreeDOS and taking screenshots with a digital camera)

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  5. Regarding savestates and running the executable. All Ultima VI engine games use differente executables for different things. The one you should run is game.exe which goes directly into the game. If you tried loading a save state after running Martian.exe that will probably cause problems.

    I haven't tried savestates with this game, so I'm not sure they will work.

    Regarding freezing and crashing, make sure you leave combat mode. For some reason it slows things down and may cause crashes if you are not on a fight or if a character is very far from you.

    I still don't get why you get those freezing problems and can't save the game. I never experienced any major bugs myself. If it's a driver problem, it may be caused by music and sound. Try dissabling those from the install program. Also select on install the save time option since that one uses uncompressed data and should work better (not sure if the gog version will allow this option).

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    1. No, I'm definitely running the right executable. And while I agree that combat slows things down, that's not the root of the problem. I had already tried disabling music and sound to no avail.

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    2. Well I was able to reproduce the saving bug. I don't think it's tied t the cordinates.

      On the meridian there is a forest, and when saving there the game freezes. The thing with forests in this game is that they are not static. Forests are spawned as creatures are. They mention in the manual that forest move around in Mars and that's the reason. When saving on a forest there are so many "creatures" around that the game freezes when saving.

      Just avoid saving near forests. Check the cloth map to see where there are forests and avoid saving near them.

      I still have to try the noctis labyrinth issue though.

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  6. "Circumvent" the planet?

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  7. Would you consider posting your save file for experimentation purposes? If the game fails for someone else when normally it works it would indicate a corrupt file. If that's the case starting over might help.

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    1. Very well, if anyone really wants to try, here's the save game directory:

      https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B706A8hYXxv3WWI3WDd6QlZYM3c/view?usp=sharing

      To replicate the saving issue, just load it, walk one step to the east, and try to save.

      To replicate the freezing in the canyon, walk to 4S 121W, cross the bridge, then move SE. Enter the canyon at 12S 98W, proceed south until you see an open east passage. Take that passage and it should freeze halfway through.

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    2. ok, this is weird, now it freezes all over the place each time I save.......

      including on that path on Noctis. The freezing on Noctis may be caused by a certain creature in the game that is invisible until you approach, but it never casued me any kind of trouble when I played the game before.

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  8. I think I might have a solution. First of all, I am almost certain this game is beatable in DOSBox. I know I beat it, though I don't really remember how long ago (between '05 and '10 I think), and I am 99% sure I was using DOSBox on Windows XP. I retried it today, saving around the meridian, and it didn't take long before I encountered the freeze. I didn't even have to cross the meridian sometimes; I could get to 160E or so, save, quit, load, and save again, and it would freeze. It seems to me that saving in the wrong place can "corrupt" your save, in a manner so that if you load it, you will freeze if you ever save again. I tried again in a WinXP machine, new game, approached the meridian, saved, quit, loaded, saved again, and it froze. It's not, as a VOGONS post suggests, a Vista+ issue.

    But I just tried something new. I started a new game, equipped my party, and walked straight to the 1893 crash site without saving. This crosses the meridian for certain. I talked to Dibbs, had him join, and then saved, quit, loaded, and saved. It worked just fine! Then I walked back to the meridian, crossed it, and saved just on the other side, quit, loaded, saved again, and it froze.

    So here's my working hypothesis - just don't ever save when you're near the meridian, and you should be fine. Keep backups, there might be similar trouble spots.

    My other, currently untestable hypothesis is that GOG has a bad copy. I know I beat it before, but I don't have that download any more - I quickly replaced it with the GOG copy once it was available.

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    1. Peraphs it is a sort of "millenium bug". I mean, something related to the date of the savefile. It seems that the only thing that changed between your past and present runs is just the year. This means that at present the game has become unplayable, whereas it was playable in the past. Maybe it could be enough just to change momentarly the date of the systems...

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    2. That or some kind of bug that is only showing up on 64 bit operating systems.

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    3. It's not the OS. Google searching led to a discussion on VOGONS about UAC, permissions, readonly properties, etc., so I tried my WinXP 32-bit box, and found the same problem on it.

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    4. I don't know, ikantspelwurdz. I can't seem to replicate your success. Once I get too close to the median, the game simply crashes when I save, no matter how far I wander away after that.

      I loved the idea that it was somehow related to a Y2K bug, but I changed the system clock to 1998 and had all the same problems.

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    5. Does that happen when you start a new game, or only when you load the (maybe already corrupt) save you have in progress?

      And is it crashing, or freezing? For me, if I save near the meridian, it may or may not work, but if it does, and I quit, load, and try to save again anywhere, it just gets stuck, with the music still playing. The debugger suggests an infinite loop.

      Another thing, saving touches files in the game's directory, and not just the SAVEGAME folder, so if you haven't, I'd start with a fresh install to make sure that all of the files are relatively pristine.

      My steps:
      Do a clean installation
      Start a new game
      Saving near the landing is fine, saving in the wilderness is not
      Equip your party
      Head due east until you find the 1893 crash site
      Have Dibbs join
      Save

      Those steps work for me every time, but only if I have never saved near the meridian.

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    6. You wouldn't happen to remember where you were standing when you saved after having Dibbs join? Both in the working example as well as in the one leading to freezes and in the one that seems to work every time? Because I have a hypothesis of my own (see below)...

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    7. I saved for the first time almost immediately after having him join. So, not far from where you find him.

      Then I walked past the meridian, didn't wander very far north or south from the 1893 landing site's latitude, and saved repeatedly just a few degrees west of the 180 meridian. It didn't take long at all for it to freeze.

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  9. I have an old copy I downloaded back in 2002 I can share out if you'd like to test it. I may have the original media in a box around here somewhere as well. Let me know.

    -j

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    1. Please. I'll test anything you've got. I would love to solve this problem, if not for CRPG Addict, then for myself and future generations.

      It's really bugging me that I never encountered this problem at all back then, and now that CRPG Addict did it, I can trigger it within 15 minutes. Maybe it's just something that happens when you save near the 180 meridian, but what are the odds that I just happened to play through it the first time without ever doing that?

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    2. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BxwpR86_fgHwWTVTTEl6aVdCNzA/view?usp=sharing

      Here is the zip file. Good luck.

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    3. Thanks a bunch, but no luck. With this copy, it froze when I saved at 165 E.

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  10. Could anyone with the game already played until that point test it with PCEm emulator? (http://pcem-emulator.co.uk/)
    I've used it many times, and prefer it to very limited Dosbox
    The setup is a bit more complicated, but once you have a machine setup and running is easier.

    First you can choose what Pc you want to emulate (286,...486, and many more options).

    Second you build a empty hardisk file, so you must partition and install msdos in it (along emm386 or even Qemm as i setup myself, also other things you'll need in dos, some utils, a file manager as volkov commander, decompressors, etc..., literally as you worked in old msdos days)

    Then you add the folder with game to the harddisk (you need another tool as winimage or diskexplore (by japanese junnno author).

    Finally you boot up your pc. As i said a bit more complicated, but later you could use this HD image to add other games and futher testing, even you can change PC configuration and try another hardware options, as boot a 386, or a 8086, etc...

    If anyone needs help with this just ask, i'll happily share my HD image already setup and ready to run.

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  11. This, from the aforementioned VOGONS post:

    "the game breaks on the thirteenth save from a unique position. I sat in the capsule and repeatedly saved 40 times, no problem, but when I got out of the capsule and walked a few tiles between saves, it crashed on the thirteenth unique position. Good to know, at least."

    I wonder if the Addict, assuming his game would allow him the same number of un-glitched saves, would enjoy the challenge or feel unecessarily hampered by it?

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    1. Whoops, didn't read the whole thread, and the original poster of what I quoted reposted saying that his problems saving were, in fact, tied to being near the 1893 landing site. This thread is from 2008, but on the GOG forums, people a still having the same problem today.

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    2. "Only" 13 saves would probably be okay, but as you discovered, that isn't the problem (or not the only problem). There's no way I saved 13 times before it started crashing.

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  12. It's possible to keep the emulator open while putting the laptop in sleep mode. That way you'd never have to use the game's save feature, and it should be possible to use save states without crashing.

    I just tried that, and Dosbox running Martian Dreams did resume running after I woke up my laptop from sleep. (I did have to toggle from window to fullscreen, as there was a black screen at first.)

    Is this a feasible way to play the game for you?

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  13. Some observations, after some experimentation:

    I don't think it has anything to do with your computer. Using your save, I can reproduce both the freeze when saving and the freeze when entering Noctis Labyrinthus 100% of the time. In fact, the latter seems to me to be an instance of the former: The game tries to auto-save and freeze just like if you were to do it manually.

    So, it seems to be some kind of obscure bug and while I can't pinpoint it, it doesn't necessarily seem to have anything to do with the sextant or the 180th meridian. Rather, something seems to flip and from then on, you only have a limited number of saves left until it flips back again. Consider this sequence of saves:

    http://www.filedropper.com/md_2

    SAVEGAME.1: Having gone east from the landing site, I'm at 27S, 151E and nothing seems to have happened yet. I can still save as often as I want.
    SAVEGAME.2: Further east, but not yet anywhere near the meridian, at 27S, 163E and now something has flipped since the save above and I only have two more saves left. I can save twice more, after that every save attempt will cause the game to freeze. Just try pressing Ctrl+S three times in a row.
    SAVEGAME.3: Still further east at 27E, 172E, this save uses up one of the remaining good saves from above, if I press Ctrl+S twice now, the game will freeze.
    SAVEGAME.4: However, if I go 14 steps to the south-east from the above save to 31S, 177E something seems to flip back again and can I again save as often as I want.
    SAVEGAME.5: But if I instead use up my last remaining good save, and now have 0 left, with every attempt to save leading to a freeze, walking those 14 steps won't correct the issue and the next save will lead to freezing every time. This also seems to be the state that the Addict's savegame is in.

    Anybody else want to give it a closer look what exactly is going wrong there?

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    1. OK, as far as I can tell, a savegame seems to reliably corrupt itself if one saves in the area north of 31°15'S and east of 158°00'E unless one had previously saved in the area south of 31°00'S and east of 158°00'E at least once some time before that.

      Once the savegame has become corrupted, the game will freeze upon the third time the game is saved following the corruption (or when some temporary files are written to disk, such as when entering the canyon), again unless one saves in the area south of 31°00'S and east of 158°00'E before the third save. The third save after a corruption won't complete regardless of location. Once the game has been saved south of 31°00'S and east of 158°00'E at least once, further saves don't seem to cause any further problems (for me at least).

      Would anybody else with the game installed like to try and corroborate the above? I assume the corrupting area also has eastern and northern boundaries, but I didn't bother looking for them. On a sidenote, as Dibbs is located at 31°00'S, it also seems plausible to me that a lot of people would save south of 31°00'S after getting him, possibly explaining why many people report completing the game without ever encountering the issue. Which further makes me hopeful, that the above area is the only one in the game causing this kind of corruption.

      As the Addict has already used up his remaining good saves in the provided savegame, it unfortunately doesn't seem to be possible get out of the corrupted state just by walking. If an earlier backup exists, I'd love to try it, though. What is possible, however, is to move the characters there by using a hex editor on SAVEGAME\OBJLIST, editing bytes 0x105-0x10b, to shift Inez and her party 13 steps south (from 28°15'S to 31°15'S).

      That puts you in the position of being able to save again. It's important that you seize this opportunity and immediately save twice before doing anything else. Especially before going north as that will just corrupt the game again. I'm not sure why the second save is required in this instance and can only guess that it's because of the game re-aligning itself after the hex editing.

      After that second save, though, you can go anywhere you want any saving also seems to work normally again everywhere and one can enter the canyon just fine. Nothing but the three characters' y-coordinates was changed. I hope there are no side effects, if anyone wants to give it a try, you can find the edited savegame at: http://www.gamefront.com/files/25376211/SAVEGAME.fixed.zip

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    2. Sounds about right. I could replicate the freeze on my copy installed off the original disks. (I vaguely remember encountering this freeze once or twice when playing in the 90's.)

      I created a fresh character and saved a few times south of 31 degrees on the way to and past the 1983 site, and was able to run all through the eastern canyon and back, saving repeatedly along the way without problems.

      I image the root cause may be a corrupted pointer in the game code, which therefore would be unlikely to occur in Nuvie.

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  14. From all of the discussion, I get the impression that if I start a game and never save at all, even when it seems safe to do so, I'll probably avoid the crashes and freezes. I'd have to play through without dying (or doing something dumb like accidentally hitting the "X" in DOSBox) or trust that emulator save states will work.

    I'm game, but not until Christmas break, when I can guarantee my laptop won't move for a couple of weeks.

    Thanks to everyone who's been spending so much time trying to analyze the issue.

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    1. That's got to be overkill. Plenty of us have beaten the game fine, saving when we want to. Wouldn't it be a lot easier to just save sparingly, and make a backup whenever you do (back up the whole game folder, not just \SAVEGAME)?

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    2. After the initial trek to the other site there is only one required combat that can be deadly (there is one location on the map that I always went around) so as long as you park in a safe location you could just leave the game running all the time. Just stick the oxium in a pack, You really don't miss much with the lower stats. In fact I never saw any really use for the level up stat boost for anything other than carrying capacity.

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    3. I also don't think playing without saving would be the safest approach. There might be automatic saves or at least similar enough events, such as when entering the canyon, that might still cause freezes. I would think doing the opposite, i.e. saving frequently and making backups of each savegame and going back multiple backups when freezes occur would be safer. That said, if the theory from my earlier post above holds, even that hopefully shouldn't be necessary.

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    4. Any update on this?

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    5. I meant to re-engage the game over the holiday break, but I didn't for no particular reason. I'll get back to it eventually, and I'll probably have to do with you suggest with the multiple saves/backups.

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    6. Be sure to also check out my earlier posts above. It may be possible to avoid the freezing issue, I hope, by saving south of 31°S and east of 158°E at least once before saving north of 31°S and east of 158°E.

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    7. Don't worry about dying in this game. This is an Ultima game and you get ressurrected each time you die.

      I still don't get it how could I play this game so many times and never find this problem until now....

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