Monday, February 27, 2017

Martian Dreams: Powerless

If I can get the power going again, I'm pretty sure those are transport tubes.
    
A long time ago, I upset several readers by giving up on Faery Tale Adventure (1987) because it involved too much walking across empty landscapes punctuated only by meaningless combat. It might take 20-minutes in real time to get from one place to another. Well, if I judged Martian Dreams by the same standards, this would be the last entry on the game. All I seem to do in it is to walk.

As I mentioned the last time, the developers took a fairly small landscape--with no barriers, you could probably walk around the circumference of the planet in 5-7 minutes--and sliced it up with uncrossable canals and cliffs. I didn't fully realize the extent of this until I started using and annotating the game map with greater regularity. The game starts in an area (middle of the map) completely enclosed by canals, and the only way to exit is a single bridge to the east. Late in this session, I wanted to travel from Elysium (point A on the map below) to Hellas (point B). Whether I took the clockwise route or counter-clockwise route around the canals, it was about 30 minutes of real-time walking, just holding the direction key the entire time, maybe stopping to fight some plants occasionally. Ultima VI really spoiled us with the moongates and moonstone.
    
Click to enlarge.
     
To make matters worse, each of the game's quests seems to involve a lot of backtracking, either because you need some obscure tool that you left behind, or because the very nature of the quest takes a journey-and-return approach.

Yes, travel does promise to get easier. Once I get the power restored to the planet, I can extend more bridges over the canals. Once I get those canals flooded with water, I can apparently take barges. And there are some buildings that look like they offer teleportation between cities. The power is thus my primary concern.

My visit to Olympus provided me with several notes about the power and canals, including the location of what Admiral Peary thought was a power station. Before I left the city, I talked with the leader, Jack Segal (no known historical candidate) who seemed like a bit of a blowhard. He had a copy of Machiavelli's The Prince on his bedside table. I suppose this is better than Atlas Shrugged.
   
I don't really like this guy.
    
I had to cross a bridge north of Olympus and loop around the canals to get to the building described by Peary. Sure enough, there was a central building surrounded by a bunch of broadcast towers, but I couldn't access it because--you guessed it--there was no power to the door.
    
This is what we call a "catch-22."
      
Without any particular idea what to do next, I decided to skirt around the canal to the south and visit the city of Argyre, where Rasputin is rumored to be holed up, and what looked like a building north of that next to a power tower. I soon found that Argyre's gates were shut and unpenetrable:

One suspects Rasputin is up to no good.
    
I had better luck with the other building. It turned out to be the entrance to some kind of underground coal-fed power station. Caves branching off the man-made (or Martian-made) areas showed signs of mining for coal and iron ore. A series of conveyor belts seemed to be carrying lumps of coal to a boiler room, but one of the belts was broken.
   
Yes, it's an homage to Metropolis (1927), which everyone knows about and 6 people have actually seen.
    
In the boiler room, I ran into a robot who called himself Stoker. He spoke English, of course. He related that it was his job to carry coal from the end of the conveyor to the furnaces, but the conveyor was broken. Dibbs spoke up at this time and recommended taking the broken belt to an NPC named Trippet (no known historical candidate) in Olympus. This was one of those backtracking quests I talked about.
    
Taking the broken conveyor belt...

...getting it fixed by Trippet...

...and returning it.
     
I walked to Trippet, got him to repair the belt, and brought it back. It was no effort to re-install it on the conveyor, but the system didn't immediately start up. After more discussions with Stoker, it seemed that I would need to prime the furnaces first. This took me a while because I didn't realize that the true "furnaces" were along a northern wall; I thought I had to put coal directly into the boilers. There was also some confusion about how to use the shovel to move the coal. Eventually, I figured it out. After I put a few shovels-full in the furnaces, a big lump of coal made its way to Stoker, and a cut scene showed him taking over.
     
The plant starts to operate on its own.
     
A couple of automatic doors opened in the complex, and I found a huge supply of Oxium. It may in fact be unlimited--every time I "use" a hopper, it produces 20 blobs--which will be useful when I return to Buffalo Bill for ammunition.
    
So much for the economy.
    
I figured my troubles were over, but the next door I tried to open on the surface indicated that it was still closed for lack of power, so clearly it isn't reaching the entire planet. I returned to the power station on the other side of the wall, but there the towers seemed alive and crackling. Stoker had suggested that a cable might be damaged somewhere, so perhaps that's what I'm looking for.
    
Power leaps from tower to tower in the restored station.
     
Unsure what to do next, I decided to try to visit the other cities, starting with Elysium, where Percival Lowell's party had reportedly gone mad. As I discovered, they weren't mad, just possessed. When the explorers--including Mark Twain, Wyatt Earp, George Washington Carver, Georges Méliès, H. G. Wells, Charles Lewis Tiffay, Vladmir Lenin--discovered the Dream Machine in Elyisum, they found the consciousnesses of Martians already within it. Those Martian consciousnesses replaced the humans', which remain stuck in the Dream Machine. The Martian-humans, going by Martian names like "Xichak" and "Sisik," refer to humans as "worms," although not necessarily in an insulting way.
    
    
My discussions with the NPCs in Elysium, plus a scroll I'd found in the power station, filled in most of the backstory of the game. Mars used to host a peaceful and prosperous society of plant-based life living in cities called "groves." Martians were grown from seedlings planted in the compost of their deceased forebears, allowing them to absorb the knowledge and experiences of previous Martians as they grew. Their own creation myths stressed the importance of the lushness and fertility of the planet, so as they developed technology, they tried to put as much of it underground as possible. Those structures that had to be built on the surface, they tried to make unobtrusive.
    
A scroll fills in a bit of the story.
    
Eventually, a tyrant named Raxachk came to power in Argyre and decided to become the "agrarian" (a high political position) for the entire planet. He created a plague that killed seedlings and threatened to unleash it unless the rest of the planet bowed to his will. Everyone laughed at him, so he released the plague and everyone died. A few Martians used their Dream Machines to trap their consciousnesses as their physical bodies died, and they remained there until humans showed up and started using the machines.
    
A Martian inhabiting the body of Charles Lewis (i.e., "Breakfast at") Tiffany describes Raxachk.
   
The Martians in Elysium assure us that their possession of human bodies is all temporary. They're hoping to re-grow new seedlings (assuming the plague is gone) and transfer their consciousnesses into new plants. The Martians in Hellas apparently think it's blasphemous to occupy human bodies and have refused, leading to animosity between the two settlements. I was on my way to Hellas when I got killed by some cacti or something. I hadn't saved in a while and I didn't feel like walking all that way again, so I closed the session. My attempts to win the entire game in 3 days using save states didn't work, but the regular save seems to be okay for now.

Anyway, it's clear that I'm going to have to help the Elysium Martians with fertilizer and water as part of the quest. But to get into certain buildings, I need the power back on, so we're back to that. I'll be happy to take a light hint as I check out Wizard's Lair.

Two notes:
    
  • I've been picking berries wherever I find them, but I haven't needed ESP again yet. There are at least three colors, although I can't tell two of them apart. One of them makes me sick; another reveals what's behind walls and closed doors.
    
A berry lets me see through this wall.
   
  • If the Avatar dies, he resurrects back at the capsule thanks to the ministrations of Dr. Blood. But he loses 1,000 experience points in the process, so I reload when I die.
      
I admit the story is a little more coherent than I expected, but the whole thing is still pretty silly. I almost wish the game would end with "it was all a dream" rather than shoehorn this nonsense into the Ultima canon.

Time so far: 14 hours
Reload count: 5

*******

This is a long shot, but if anyone has or knows where to get a game manual for Les Templiers d'Orven (Loricels, 1986), I would greatly appreciate it.

45 comments:

  1. That plant rebirth story kind of remind me to the book Speaker for the Dead, although I have to say that it's been long ago since I read it to not remember the details

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    1. Yes, little Portugese speaking beasties who planted each others corpses to grow as trees?

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    2. ...only the planting (which was considered a great honor) means the plantee is killed ritually, and extremely painfully. And when a human became a good friend of the pequeninos (the 'beasties'), they want to do him a great honor. Needless to say, hilarity does NOT ensue.

      Also, the Portuguese is due to the fact that the small human settlement is apparently made up of Brazilian settlers.

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  2. Ha! This is where I got stuck. I did not trigger the dialog with the NPC about the missing belt and was struggling to figure out what to do. I stopped playing about a year ago.

    Maybe I had a glitch and should replay...

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  3. Trippet seems to be a reference to Trip Hawkins.

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    1. And Segal is Seggallion from U6/Savage Empire (and maybe knights of legend?).

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    2. Segallion is originally from Knights of Legend.

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  4. Curiosity question: did it use the word "grok" when discussing the martian plants growing in the compost of their forebearers?

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  5. While I would suggest most people take the time to read both "The Prince" and "Atlas Shrugged," if you consider that these people got here due to an accidental launch from a World's Fair, that means Segal must have had the book in his pocket while touring the exhibits... I'm not sure which book is more disturbing as something someone carries with them wherever they go...

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    1. As if that's even a question. Anything Rand, of course.

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    2. If you want to read a book by Rand... I'd go with "The Fountainhead" if you want a paen to Objectivism. "We The Living" is a better book than either of the two later novels imho. I read these many years ago, and I don't hew to any great belief in her philosophies, but they are worthwhile to read for understanding those who follow her.

      Enjoying the review Chet! I may try to actually go back and finish the complete Ultima 7, but likely won't have the time or patience to ever go back to Martian Dreams or Savage Empire, even though I loved Ultima 6 and finished it back in 1990 when it first came out. My trusty old Tandy in those days simply lacked the horsepower to run Ultima 7!

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    3. "The Prince" is a much slimmer volume than either "The Fountainhead" or "Atlas Shrugged". Carrying either of the latter two around would be difficult to do casually.

      Rand's books would also be anachronistic -- her publishing history started in the 1930's; "Atlas Shrugged" was published in 1957.

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    4. I think Chet was speaking in jest. Anyway, talking about anachronism when we have colonies on Mars during the Victorian era is... well... weird.

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    5. Hey Randroids, you know Chet was dissing Atlas Shrugged there, yes?

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    6. I think they do since the best defense of her works in these comments are that they can help you understand people who ascribe to her ideology.

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    7. I find it difficult to choose which kind of person I'd rather be stuck in a malfunctioning space capsule with... While Randians are generally reasonable company, one that was sycophantic enough to carry one of her books around as a quick-reference... I'd be worried he was deranged... I mean the philosophical principles in the books are worth meditating upon, but they're really quite horribly written. A literary genius Rand was not. She probably should have gotten some help translating her thoughts into English. Wouldn't have hurt at least.

      On the other hand, someone who carries a copy of The Prince around as a quick-reference would seem likely to be an evil-minded type of person who cares only about personal power...

      I suppose it depends on whether you figure you'd better be able to deal with someone who might fly into a berserk rage if you suggested that their idol wasn't the best author ever, or if you're the type to prefer keeping constant vigilance on the guy who will do his level best to make you do all the work and then kill you in your sleep so he can have the last ration pack... Assuming he waits that long...

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    8. I love the conversations this comment section gets into.

      I had always assumed her husband had helped out with editing her English, especially early on. Only thing of hers I've ever finished reading was Anthem.

      Prometheus was a pretty unfitting name for book's protagonist to pick for himself.

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  6. Hmm, a light hint? Have you searched the underground power station as thoroughly as possible?

    Regarding the walking - you are right, there is a heck of a lot of walking involved in the game. Thinking about it now, I'm kind of surprised that even when I replayed the game as an adult, with a job, I did not find the walking excessively arduous - even though it plainly is. Maybe it's just rose-tinted glasses, because now that I think about it, I did certainly carefully plan my trips across Mars in such a way as to minimise the walking.

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    1. I used to walk all the time in U6, only figured out moonstone navigation when I was like 75% through the game.

      (In my defense, I was young and inexperienced at the time :) ).

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    2. Thing is, due to the open nature of U6, walking is a pleasant experience. Nobody likes the squiggly canal-navigation in WOU:MD, not even those that liked Savage Empire.

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    3. Well, ironically, the canals actually made MD navigation simpler - dull, but simple. You just walked along the canal, and walked, and walked... the trouble begun when you tried to take a shortcut, and found yourself stuck in a maze of hills and cliffs.

      I do disagree about the open nature of U6, though. Have you had a look at its map lately? :) The whole middle is taken up by impassable mountains, and there are many places where, between impassable mountains and equally impassable rivers, you are constantly getting stuck and backtracking. Later on, the rivers in U6 cease to be an obstacle once you find a boat to carry with you, but the mountains never get better.

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  7. This "I do nothing but walk" feeling may actually be intentional. After all, you said you expected new modes of travel to open up once you've come further in the plot. I actually think it's sort of a good idea (not a great idea, just sort of a good one) to have rewards in a game that don't simply increase stats, but make your gameplay experience better.

    I know, I know, it could simply be good in the first place. That's why I said it was 'sort of' a good idea ;-)

    Also, quite a few otherwise brilliant games feel like exercises in travel route optimisation to me. For instance, playing Morrowind with a slow, heavily-armored character is excruciating even with all those fast travel modes (wizard guild teleports, silt striders, boats, mark&recall, X Intervention spells etc.) in place! The first thing I usually do in Morrowind is get the Boots of Blinding Speed and some magic resistance, just to make the damn thing playable. After that, it's two tons of fun in a one-ton barrel, of course.

    Hopefully, you'll have a similar experience here.

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    1. Certainly, it's almost a tradition of the U6 generation of Origin RPGs, that after doing a lot of walking in the first stages of the game, you are then able to open up new, faster ways of moving. I'll say nothing of Martian Dreams in this regard, to avoid any spoilers ;).

      It's interesting you mention Morrowind in this context, because it did something similar, although it was less hardcore about it - the alternative modes of transport were almost all available immediately, with the exception of the weird propylon thingies that required a DLC download and a special quest to activate. But of course, Morrowind's transport system was much more complex than U6 or Savage Empire, and it took a while to learn all the routes and such.

      I will add that I actually greatly appreciated slow-travel in Morrowind, and when playing the later TES games, I've always tried to walk everywhere as much as possible, or fast travel only using world-based means of travel instead of the fakeish click-on-a-place-and-you're-there option (Oblivion persuaded me to violate that rule more than once, due to lack of carts, teleports, or anything similar). And at the time when I first played Martian Dreams, the slow-walking felt very much like Morrowind - the joy of an open world, the sense of exploration and discovery, the need to keep track of locations, and so on. Today, however, it is hard to go back to Martian dreams in this regard. A lot of open-world games have come and gone, and we're kinda spoiled for content to encounter along the way. As I said in an earlier post above, I don't recall complaining about the walking when I replayed Martian Dreams about seven years ago, so I guess it didn't feel that bad - but goodness, by the end of it, you sure were tired of the hostile plantimals, and you did your best to avoid those, at least. And the rewards of exploration certainly were no longer there. Not because I already knew what the game had to offer, but because after Morrowind and Oblivion, it was hard to get excited after finding another abandoned Martian house, with another set of Martian footbags or something. Martian Dreams (and U6, and SE, as a matter of fact) is weird in this regard - it's basically a nearly-linear game set in an under-used open-world setting. I still love it to death, but it definitely had a problem with this.

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    2. A small note: as I recall, the propylons didn't require the DLC to teleport to each other. The (free) DLC just added a quest to assist in finding the indexes, and once you had them all let you teleport to and from Caldera with a single index.

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    3. These are console examples, but I can think of two RPGs in particular that used difficulty of movement to convey how far the player had gone. Shining Force II had this escher-like maze near its end, and just the shear time it took to traverse it (not to mention most mistakes leading to restarting the whole thing) made the trek of climbing that final tower seem arduous, and the idea of having to walk back up kept me from making too many repeat trips.

      Breath of Fire III's Desert of Death wasn't as maze-like, but the amount of time it took to navigate and the potential for misunderstanding instructions made it another example of really driving home the sense of travelling a great distance.

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    4. Shining Force II maze: http://faqs.neoseeker.com/Games/GENESIS/shining_force_ii_ancient_tower.png

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    5. Also, Magic Candle with its teleporters.

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    6. All the Might & Magic games with flying and "Town Portal."

      I agree that this is a good game dynamic, but traveling in Martian Dreams remained annoying long after I activated the teleporters and filled the canals.

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  8. My memory of your issue with the power is that you need some tools, though I don't remember how much in game hints point you in the right direction and how much you have to figure out yourself.

    I can't help but detect that you're reluctantly learning to like it. finished this game over the summer, I think around the time of your first pass at it, and I had a similar experience. Frustrated by the premise and the gameplay, I pushed through and actually appreciated the Martian story by the end. Had a similar experience with Savage Empire.

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  9. In Ultima lore, the events and locations exist in an infinite multiverse, so every single possibility can exist and be canon. You don't have to like it, but nothing is shoehorned into the lore. This is a series that had spaceships in the second installment. Ultima is a good series, but maintaining lore and presenting a logical world are some things it will never be accused of. Also, while Ultima games are known for their stories lofty concepts, the actual stories themselves are pretty stupid. Ultima 4 revolves around the interesting concept of being a better person as an example to the people. In practice, the storyline makes little sense and the conversations are just a few poorly written lines. I didn't think the actual stories got very good until Ultima 7 and after 7, the series went off the rails.

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    1. On Serpent Isle, *spoiler alert* the Time Lord also did a summary of what happened in the 1st trilogy.

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    2. Jeremy, I do appreciate the comment, but I don't agree with your premise. I don't see how you interpret the series as existing in an "infinite multiverse."

      Yes, U2 had spaceships. I said that was stuipd, too. The series didn't get its legs until IV, really, and IV-VII do tell a pretty consistent story. It's for the latter reason that I object to silliness in these offshoots.

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    3. I think the multi-verse concept comes from Ultima Online, where each server represents a separate shard of the broken gem of immortality. Really cool concept, but I wouldn't consider it infinite. Also Martian Dreams doesn't exactly fit in either, since it is set in our universe, theoretically. Does the Avatar come from a universe that's parallel to ours, where Freud went to Mars? Or did Freud actually go to Mars? Either way it's still kinda dumb and probably works better if it's just outside the canon...

      I do like the multi-verse idea, and it does help to gloss over contiuity problems... It makes Britannia a really weird place where anything can happen. I've been playing through the series with different avatars (male, female, black, white) to add to the non-continuous effect :)

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    4. Which in itself comes from Ultima 1, after defeating Mondain, where the Gem of Immortality is broken.

      The 4 maps from Ultima 1 themselves drift apart becoming different worlds (one is Sosaria, one Britannia, another the Serpent Isle, etc)

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    5. AFAIK, the canonical hero in Ultima VII completed the 8 preceding Ultima games. And yes, the Dudebro in VII was once a non-binary fuzzy who threw down with a computer. That's just how it is.

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    6. The entire point of my comments is that I don't like what the developers did to certain aspects of Ultima lore. Pointing to OTHER aspects of Ultima lore I don't like doesn't really make me feel better. I wish the first two games hadn't featured dumb use of space travel, I wish they hadn't retconned the first three games to involve the Avatar, and I wish the Avatar hadn't gone to Mars.

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    7. Will admit that the story of 4 was a bit underwhelming, it was the concept however that was groundbreaking *as you said*. I take issue that 5 and 6 had stupid stories however. 5 was a pretty bleak interpenetration of state controlled morality, a lofty concept yes but told and imagined quite well especially for the time and tech limits. 6 again a lofty concept of unintended consequence and results of actions in a larger context than one is aware of. But again very well done.

      However, i will admit all this is subjective.. sort of like musical tastes. I can understand how someone can be of your opinion, but I do disagree.

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    8. Some more thoughts, the story of Ultima 7 to me was about on par with 5 and 6. Perhaps a bit more silly with the introduction of the Guardian. What made Ultima 7 great was the tech advancements.. the living world and interactivity. The music, the mood, the sounds, the ambience. The near total control of the game world. Unprecedented at the time.

      The story was solid yet predictable. I probably would not rate it higher than 5 or 6. Although overall I would say it is the best of the series. It was just so ahead of its time and the only weak point to it was its combat.. but that can be easily forgiven due to all its strong points.

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    9. I'm not enough of an Ultima expert to have an opinion on the multiverse thing, but the discussion reminded me that there's also a Kilrathi spaceship from Wing Commander in Ultima VII. Of course, it's a joke and not part of the plot.

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    10. We call those stuff "easter eggs". But seeing that the Avatar is from our world (albeit timeline unknown), it's really not that weird to see him/her travelling to other worlds. For what is worth THE Avatar is an avatar of ourselves; a digital representation of the players.

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    11. "THE Avatar is an avatar of ourselves..." This was true in Ultima IV. It's been less true with any game since then, and is definitely not true by the time of the WoU games. I don't know a guy named Spector in real life.

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    12. Well, in regards to Spector, there is no difference between him and Iolo or Lord British - Martian Dreams can have you encounter Spector in real life because you had just met him in Savage Empire previously.

      But yes, by this point the idea of the avatar being me had effectively broken down beyond repair. Your avatar had a face, and it wasn't you who chose the face. And the more cutscenes they showed of the avatar in his (no longer: his/her) Earthly life, the less it was your life.

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  10. About "Les Templiers d'Orven", I sadly cannot help, and I know this will come as little comfort, but knowing Loriciels games and their manuals, it probably consisted of a single small sheet with loading instructions (Loriciels CPC games tended to be packed as a simple plastic protection the size of the floppy they encased).

    ... would be curious to see it, though ;)

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  11. I'm missing what the homage to Metropolis is. The robots face?

    That said, when I saw it I was disappointed by the quality of the rediscovered footage. I guess they aren't expecting enough sales to spend some time cleaning up the courage digitally, but the sudden quality drop was jarring.

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    1. Yes, the robot... but not the one shown here (albeit even here there is some slight resemblence). The real Metropolis homage has yet to show up in this play-through.

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