Sunday, June 3, 2018

Game 291: UnReal World [v. 1.00b] (1992)

The long-running series begins.
UnReal World [v. 1.00b]
Three Relaxed Byte-Biters (developer)
Released in 1992 for DOS as shareware
Date Started: 27 May 2018

In continuous development for almost 30 years, this "survival roguelike" has developed something of a cult following. I became aware of it through a roguelike subreddit and then its own dedicated subreddit, where unbridled joy followed its release on Steam two years ago. Players seem to love the gritty realism of trying to stay warm, dry, and fed in Iron-Age Finland, with accompanying realistic images created by dedicated cosplayers. It also seems to have the typical appeal of open-world sandbox game in which your skills improve with use. (The modern game's 28 skills include "Hideworking," "Timbercraft," and "Agriculture.") I gather it plays something like Skyrim if it took five times as long to travel between cities and you had all the most difficult options of the "Frostfall" mod enabled.
The 2018 version of the game.
Fans of the modern game will therefore barely recognize this first version, set not in the authentic past but in a standard high-fantasy kingdom called Ankhyrnia, complete with elves, orcs, and magic, and only a couple hints of a "survival" approach. Though it would be tempting to regard this version as a completely different game that just happens to have the same name, the evolution becomes clear as we move from version to version, which we'll be doing over the life of this blog.
One of three pages of NetHack-like commands for this version.
The first version clearly owes a lot to NetHack, with much of the thematic material drawn from the Ultima series. In addition to permadeath, it has a roguelike's complexity of commands, using almost all letters of the keyboard in both lower-case and capital varieties, plus several of the function keys and special characters. As the developer was uninterested in multi-platform porting, there are more graphical icons here, although a full-ASCII mode is available. The game goes a step beyond NetHack in the number of attributes and with the introduction of a few skills. As you play, you can't help but feel that the mechanics of the game were designed for a bigger game than the one in front of you, which is indeed the case. The developers intended the base game to serve any number of "campaigns," only one of which was ever designed.
Deep in a dungeon, my wounded character finds a Potion of Gain Ability.
The game's background gives a lot of detail on the history of the world, most of which isn't used in-game and could be replaced with any other framing story. We learn that the world of Ankhyrnia (a probable homage to Ultima, given other themes that the game uses) was created by Ayinar, the god of gods. The history of the land is marked by wars between good spirits called Tanwas (six of which were promoted by Ayinar to godhood) and evil spirits called Arwas. I could be wrong, but Googling suggests that the proper names were invented by the authors specifically for the game and not derived from existing mythology.
Part of the long backstory.
In character creation, the player can choose from human, half-orc, elf, halfling, dwarf, and half-troll races and warrior, priest, mage, rogue, cleric, and hunter classes. Attributes, randomly rolled from 3 to 21, are wisdom, agility, strength, charisma, intelligence, exactness, speed, and physique. These help determine the three skills: melee weapons, missile weapons, and defense. If there are any class restrictions on item usage, I never ran into them.
 A mixed bag in this set of random attribute rolls.
The campaign, called "Random Adventure," places the character in a small world consisting of a town situated between the Doom-Tower and the Dark Caves. The quest is no more than to "find out what is in the tower," accomplished first by exploring 15 levels of the caves to acquire three keys.

The opening town has the character's house, with a set of starting equipment, shops selling weapons, armor, and magic items, a casino, several schools that offer training on specific weapons, and a bank where you can deposit money for safekeeping.

The town map.
Browsing weapons in the weapons store.
Early on, you learn to be forgiving of the game's tortured English. I'd certainly rather deal with some awkward sentences than have to make my own translations from Finnish. But the translations create some confusion at points. The bank is called an "office," for instance, and you might overlook it if you don't bother to enter and speak with the agent. A couple of my characters nearly starved to death before I realized a trader in the dungeon wasn't selling "tin" (the metal) but rather tins of canned food. Confessionals encourage you to do penance for "needles fighting," which sounds painful if not lethal, but of course it means "needless." One of the types of armor you can find is "feet shields," which I'm guessing describes greaves or sabatons. You don't have to worry about stealing from the "potion store" since the latter word is used in the sense of "store-room" and not "shop."
Occasionally, you get a little introduction to a dungeon room.
Gameplay feels a lot like NetHack at first. The shops operate the same as NetHack shops, where you examine and take items and then pay the shopkeepers. Dropping items in the shops allows you to sell them. Many of the commands are the same, like (q)uaff, (w)ield, and (i)nventory, and the game adopts the convention--going all the way back to Rogue--of randomizing potion colors, wand materials, and scroll words for each potential set of magic items in the game, forcing you to experiment or find methods of identifying the items.

Soon, however, you start to appreciate some of the greater complexities of UnReal World. For instance, combat isn't just a matter of arrowing into enemies. In fact walking into a monster's or NPC's position allows you to pass them, not fight them. Instead, you choose from a couple of attack options (weapon 1 or weapon 2) that in turn brings up a sub-menu with different attack types depending on the weapon you wield and your skill with it--a dynamic we saw in Dungeon Master.
Choosing an attack type against a wild dog.
Each character class has a special skill menu that provides various advantages in combat and exploration. Warriors can punch and wrestle opponents, slamming them into walls, without relying on their weapons. They can also "wrench" their opponents' weapons away. Priests have natural abilities to identify scrolls and potions and to find "natural" food. Rogues can sneak, steal, disarm traps, and open locked doors. Hunters, if they stumble into a tree square (which exist within the caves) can find herbs to heal themselves, find food, and craft arrows from the wood.
The warrior applies his wrestling skill to a skeleton.
Exploration proceeds generally like NetHack. While areas are uncovered from amid blackness much like any roguelike, you also have a "fog of war" outside the 9-square area around the character (less if the character has a light source).
Traps include quicksand.
The dungeon is generated randomly by running a separate application. You can do this for each new character or let each character build on the experiences of previous characters. The random generation creates some oddities such as doors that open into blank walls, or doors situated right next to open squares going to the same destination. It mostly works, though. Each level fits entirely on one screen. Some areas are naturally hidden, and all of my characters had a miserable time trying to find secret doors no matter how many times I hit the "s" key. I mostly found secret areas by chopping my way into them with a pickaxe.

Enemies in the dungeon are mostly high-fantasy standards: giant bats, wild dogs, orcs, skeletons, zombies, minotaurs, and so forth. Putative "monsters" might befriend certain PCs; orcs are friendly to half-orc characters, for instance. Combat strikes me as a bit easier in this game than in NetHack, and there seem to be fewer enemies overall. A player can descend into the caves quite quickly, and I suppose a rogue could dart down, find the keys, and escape without fighting at all. Players can do body-part specific damage on enemies (a common one is cutting off the enemy's sword arm, causing him to both howl in pain and drop his weapon), but the character has no such weaknesses. Compensating for the ease of combat is the fact that hit points don't regenerate on their own; you must find a healing potion or herbs, get lucky with a prayer, or sleep. UnReal World also has a Rogue-like dedication to ensuring that you're always on the cusp of starvation. Unlike Rogue (but like NetHack), you can eat enemy corpses--and perhaps get sick or poisoned from them. You don't get any intrinsics from them.
You can look at a creature to get a detailed assessment.

Cutting off an enemy's limb.
The greater fun is the variety of non-combat encounters in the dungeons. These include wandering merchants, NPCs with side-quests, bandits who demand your gold, and special areas such as underground forests in which nymphs gambol.
Using Ultima-like dialogue, a priest gives me a side quest to find a holy symbol for him.
A series of altars introduce the game's "virtue" system, clearly inspired by Ultima IV and its successors. UnReal World has a trimmed-down version of Lord British's list, with virtue consisting of valor, honor, honesty, spirituality, and justice (eschewing, if you're counting, compassion, sacrifice, and humility). When you come upon a shrine, you choose a virtue on which to meditate. The first challenge involves drawing the virtue's rune by arrowing the cursor around--the challenge being that you can't "lift" the cursor, so you have to draw the rune in one continuous set of moves.
Drawing the rune for honesty.
After that, you supply the virtue's mantra, along with a second mantra that indicates what you want to do: check your status with the virtue, get a hint on how to improve the virtue, sacrifice gold (always $250) to improve the virtue, or sacrifice 10 hit points to improve the virtue. (Both the runes and the mantras appear in the game manual.) Each virtue has a few in-game ways to improve it, but not many; this is one area in which the engine demanded a more extensive campaign. I particularly like that you improve spirituality by making use of one of the several confessionals found in the dungeon. You can confess anything, but the game suggests common vices like needless fighting, drunkenness, and patronage of a prostitute.
"Weekend in New Orleans" serves as a shortcut for all of these.
Leveling up occurs at reasonably regular intervals, with increases to hit points, skills, and attributes. Being virtuous sometimes gives you extra bonuses during leveling. Each class has a hit point cap, and I found that most characters reached it within about 5 level-ups. Other statistics improve past that, however.
Leveling up. Valor is the easiest virtue to improve. You just charge into combat.
As with most roguelikes, the equipment system is strong here. For armor, you have your main torso armor, helmets, boots, gloves, cloaks, and the aforementioned "feet shields." There are potions, wands, rings, staves, and scrolls to identify--and wandering mages who will do so for a fee. Players dedicated enough to truck everything back to the surface for resale will make a bundle, which of course helps with virtue development at the altars. Between those altar contributions, identifying items, buying items, paying for identification, and paying for healing, the economy is also relatively strong.
A mid-game inventory. "Saltjars" cause zombies to immediately desiccate and die. "Make-up stuff" increases the charisma of NPCs. Why?!?
A wandering magician offers to identify my stuff.
There are a thousand other details and oddities. You can get hiccups from eating tinned food; they interrupt you every few turns with a hiccup message. Skeletons are resistant to edged weapons. Ogres (for some reason) can impersonate other NPCs until you get close. Zombies can keep on fighting as you carve chunks out of them, which the game highlights with a series of hilarious messages. And when zombies die, demons show up to convey their souls to Hell. Rogues roll a chance to steal every item they pick up in stores. You can find beds in the dungeons that give you a better night's sleep than random corners. It's these types of little details that are so delightful in NetHack, and the developers did an excellent job introducing original details to this game. If any of you get a chance over the next few days, fire it up and see what you encountered that I missed.

I found the game's challenge moderate enough that I decided to play it straight. My first character who really tried, a half-orc warrior, found two of the keys before he was slain by a minotaur on Level 12 of the dungeon. I just started a second character: a priest named Jeanne. If I lose her, I'll probably resort to save-scumming (my usual standard is to save every two levels) so I can experience the endgame in a reasonable amount of time. For now, I can say that this is a great start to the series--a fun, well-balanced RPG with more interesting encounters than the typical roguelike (up to this year, anyway). It's good to see something other than SpurguX coming out of Finland.

Time so far: 6 hours


Turlogh le Rôdeur, or Turlogh de Penroth if you go by the title screen, turns out to be an interactive gamebook; it actually came coupled with a printed comic gamebook called La Sphere du Necromant in which you play the same character. "Playing" the game is a process of walking through an extremely linear story in which you meet weird NPCs and fight the occasional combat in which random rolls of the dice play a role.

The title screen has a different name than the game was marketed under.

The accompanying book. Are those Frankenstein-like bolts sticking out of his neck? Or are they badly misplaced ears?

Meeting an NPC.
The beginning of a combat.
If it was in English, I'd suck it up and cover it in a single entry, but I really don't feel like translating all the French text for something that isn't really an RPG, and I can't really figure out the controls for the few combats that the game offers, so I'm afraid it goes in the rejection heap.


  1. As adorable as 'feet shields' is, I don't know if I trust anyone who has to jettison one of the virtues and chooses to drop Compassion.

    1. Considering that this is a battle heavy game, as most roguelikes, Compassion would make little sense mechanics-wise. One way to implement it would perhaps be to have enemies beg you to spare them if they reached low hit points or to give money to beggars.

      Sacrifice would be more fun to implement I suppose, chopping off a piece of you on every altar you meet.

    2. I think we can all agree that "humility" is particularly difficult to implement with standard game mechanics, but I'm on the fence about "compassion." It's possible that the developer didn't agree that compassion for its own sake was a virtue, just as I always had issues with Benjamin Franklin's "silence" and "chastity." I hope I can get him over here at some point.

    3. You want to have Ben Franklin here to talk about chastity?

    4. I know I'm two years late (I found this browser tab again!) but I find it hilarious that the guy suspected of being in a sex cult while he lived in France listed chastity as a virtue.

    5. From personal experience, I can confirm that you can identify virtue without necessarily embodying it.

  2. Ogres were originally human-eating monsters who looked just like humans, i.e. Cornish ogres. They especially fancied eating babies. RuneQuest had this kind of ogre. They looked like attractive humans and would be found in positions of influence in human societies, secretly worshipping Chaos and murdering in the night.

    1. Thanks, Harland. That's a cool bit of information on which I had no idea.

    2. I see the same thing in the development of Trolls. In earlier stories they simply guard bridges. You pay money. You can haggle with them and so on. Then Dungeons and Dragons turns them into 9 ft. killing machines.

    3. It's kind of an odd thing with any creature that appeared in Tolkien or the D&D bestiary after being featured for hundreds of years in fairy tales, I suppose. Gnomes, goblins, elves, etc.

    4. I guess it came about since Dungeons and Dragons was originally a war game and thus more like Squad Leader than Tolkien. Hence a deceptive ogre was not workable. I suppose that's the reason the virtue of Compassion got the axe, so to speak.

    5. In traditional fairy tales, Ogres were shapeshifters. For example, in Puss in Boots. For a more recent setting of the trope, we can reference The Spiderwick Chronicles for example, where the main evil character is an Ogre and impersonates the appearance of other humans - which leads to some key plot twists.

    6. I went into the comments for this one to mention the Runequest ogres; I think Runequest was more popular in Europe as well?

    7. Dungeons and dragon's early monsters drew a lot from one specific book of monster lore that drew heavily on one specific medieval bestiary. You see a lot of selection bias in early D&D, which largely amounted to "What reference books did Gygax's local library have" or "What books did Gygax happen to buy"

      This particular bestiary was a bit odd, and focused on some obscure versions or just made up versions of monsters more popularly known as other things.

      There is a thread on that I can't find right now where they try to track down the inspiration for every original D&D monster, and they find a lot of the "Why did Gygax change this ones" are lifted word for word out of this one book.

  3. "Enemies in the dungeon are mostly high-fantasy standards: giant bats, wild dogs, orcs, skeletons, zombies, minotaurs, and so forth"
    What is the example of a low-fantasy monster, or medium-fantasy?

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Low Fantasy is normally quite like our medival time, with only very little magic. Think Game of Thrones (where most people wouldnt encounter magic beings)

      High Fantasy means strong fantasyelements, i.e. strong, magic and/or races like elves, dwarces. Think Lord of the rings.

      So Low - Fantasy-Monsters are probably something like aggressive rats, bats or wolves.

    3. Obviously, The Addict didn't invent the term. High-fantasy explicitly takes place in another world with its own races, histories, and rules about magic (Lord of the Rings, Ultima; please no nonsense about LOTR being set in the "real" world, no matter what Tolkien said). Good and evil have stark definitions and the plot is usually about the former overcoming the latter.

      "Low" fantasy takes place in the real or "realistic" world in which humans are the only (or at least primary) sentient race, magic is rare or non-existent, and the plot is driven by far more nuanced and human motivations.

      Naturally the two divisions are more like opposite ends of a continuum than a clear divider. Thus, to the extent that "medium fantasy" exists, it's somewhere in the middle. Game of Thrones has classical "low fantasy" characters and motives but also has wights and dragons. Conan is set in the Earth's past but features explicit magic and fantastical creatures.

      I suppose a good rule of thumb is that if it has elves, it's high fantasy. Can anyone think of an exception?

    4. By the way, that was me. I wanted to make a joke about LH's name given his question, but I don't think it's cool to use sock puppets even as a joke.

    5. Well, there are plenty of what I think are usually called 'urban fantasies' that feature elves, usually as a subset of fairies; stuff like Holly Black's Tithe books and so on.

    6. Thank you for the explanation about fantasy, and I liked the Lowenmitey joke :)

    7. To Lord Lowenmitey : The comic Thorgal and in general Viking stories have elves and is clearly low fantasy. Of course, said elves are smallish purple creatures with wings, though they do live in forest. I guess the rule of thumb is :

      "f it has elves that looks like leaner, wiser humans, it's high fantasy."

    8. The 'supernatural' is often gated in low fantasy. Your elf-equivalent might exist, but regular folk don't know it.

    9. I'd even argue that LotR is fairly low-fantasy, mainly because magic is so rare in Middle-earth. Regular folk don't get to become anything resembling wizards, and most of them won't even see any in their life. It's only a handful of extraordinarily powerful individuals - ancient elf-lords and -ladies like Galadriel and Glorfindel, and Maiar like Gandalf, Saruman and Sauron - that actually have any kind of supernatural power. That's a stark difference to many RPG worlds where magic-users and enchanted items are a dime a dozen.

    10. "Please no nonsense about LOTR being set in the 'real' world, no matter what Tolkien said." Why is this nonsense? Tolkien expressly said that his stories were set in the real world, in the distant past. You can't just ignore that.

    11. When the hell did he say that and how distant is that? Jurassic?

    12. He said it in the foreword to LOTR (but not in Letters). The meta story is that he somehow came into possesion of the Red Book of Westmarch, written by Bilbo, Frodo and Sam (and also Bilbo's "Translations from Elvish" (Silmarillion)), and Tolkien then translated and dramatized the hobbits' accounts. That's one reasons why, with a couple of exceptions, you are never "inside the character's heads" in LOTR.

      But as Tolkien grew older, so grew his Middle Earth more distant from the real world.
      The original Lost Tales were much more grounded within the ancient history of NW Europe, and feels "closer" than the published Silmarillion.

      But to claim, as Lord Lowenmitey did above, that Conan was set in the real world, and LOTR not, is just laughable.
      Either you accept that both are set in some mythical past of the real world, or you accept that they are both set in fictional, ot alternative, pasts.

    13. This comment has been removed by the author.

    14. "Laughable" is a needlessly harsh term. Both Howard and Tolkien claimed that their works were set in an unknown pre-history, a claim which Tolkien reversed or de-emphasized later, which Howard did not have time to do. Tolkien was a master linguist who crafted most of the cultures of Middle Earth out of pastiches of the real cultures that he linguistically looted to construct his languages, while Howard was far less technically based and clearly seeking cultural tropes as a shorthand to simplify his writing efforts. (Not a criticism.) Given that Tolkien explicitly denied an allegorical link between the real world and LOTR, while Howard wrote a complete fake-history for his pre-Atlantean world, it's not at all "laughable" to claim that Tolkien himself was backing away from claiming a historical basis for his stories.

    15. I don't accept either series as being set in the authentic past. I think both writers were writing before it was generally okay to just say "screw it--this story takes place in a completely different universe; don't worry about it." (I wonder who was the first to do that.) But there are thematic elements that make LOTR "higher" fantasy than Conan.

    16. I'm pretty sure Howard, like Tolkien, in some of his letters refer to his created world as fictional or invented, even though they both presented their stories in published works as set in the past of the real world.

      Personally I think it's more interesting than totally unconnected worlds.
      Of the latter Fritz may have been (one of the) first with his Fafhrd&Grey Mouser stories, of which the first one was published in 1939.

    17. I had never heard of that series. That does seem to fit the bill. Most previous stories set in fantasy worlds (e.g., Oz) at least make some reference to Earth or offer some orientation to Earth. Leiber's series, at least judging by the Wikipedia information, seems to be an entirely self-contained fantasy universe.

    18. The Worm Ouroboros by ER Eddison (1922) is set in a world that is clearly not Earth, but the book has a weird introduction with a bird flying from some place in England to Demonland. Or something like that, I don't remember it well. I never understood what that intro was about, but perhaps it simply was not done to invent a world that was not related to our own. I would say that Eddison at least paved the way for completely fictional worlds, since the line between Earth and Eddison's Demonland is extremely thin, even more so than Oz (which has a human main character).

    19. Uh, not to sound like I'm just arguing for th the sake of it, but Tolkien did write LOTR as a alternate mythology of Earth. You are allowed to "think" whatever you want about his writing, but it is true that he intended LOTR to be set on Earth. He wanted to create a rich mythology for England, as it didn't have a strong one like other cultures. That was his inspiration.

    20. Regardless of what Tolkien said, his book uses no known history. It doesn't draw from--in fact, it contradicts--everything from real archaeology, history, and even biology. Hence, it is to be distinguished from actual historic fiction. Moreover, its broad themes of good and evil are not worldly but otherworldly. All of this puts it squarely in the "high fantasy" genre.

    21. Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser are excellent reads, although I would stick with Leiber's stories only.

      Nehwon, their world of origin, is definitely NOT Earth because there was ONE story which was set in ancient Earth and explicitly states that Fafhrd and the Mouser traveled there from their world.

  4. The game's impressed you enough for you to give it a multiple-version treatment, and you haven't even finished it yet?

    That's quite promising.

    1. Yes, it's very well done. The classes really make a huge difference. There's more role-playing here than in most commercial titles of the era.

  5. Dedicated cosplayers, eh? :P

    People who dress up in historically correct garb are usually called "reenactors", cosplay is a term referring to all kinds of fantasy dressup.

    Important difference!

    1. This is the kind of comment that makes me wonder why Chet even bothers.

    2. Eh? The comment wasn't meant to make fun of Chet's lack of knowledge about the subject, just wanted to point out that there's a difference. As someone who did some reenactment in the past, being called "LARPer" by people is pretty irritating so I tend to point out the difference between cosplay, LARP, and reenactment if people get it wrong.

      Nothing hostile about the comment at all.

    3. Lines tend to blur when games like "For Honor" or "Kingdom Come: Deliverance" get popular. Sometimes to the point where you'd need to ask the costumed person to be sure.

    4. Rule of thumb: if the weapons are foam and plastic, its a LARPer. If the armor is foam and plastic, it's a cosplayer. Otherwise, re-enactor.

  6. Only a few times on your blog have I read about a game that I never heard of yet seems really cool. This is one of them. I think I'll take up your challenge and see if I can contribute anything to your next article.

  7. I played UnReal world once in the late nineties/early 2000s, when it was a survival game. I remember I couldn't make heads or tails of it. I had no idea it was older than that or it was still going on. I'll check this one out when I get a chance.

    1. Same here. I remember mailing 10 bucks to help preserve a certain something that I can't recall. If only the game was as charitable as I was. XS

  8. "Weekend in New Orleans" lol. I live on the west coast, so for us it would be "Vegas Vacation".

    1. What I love about that list is "raging in drunk." Being drunk itself isn't a sin, but it is if you're "raging."

  9. The huge setting change in this game reminds me of how ToME 2.x was "Troubles of Middle-Earth", an Angband derivative, and 4.x was "Tales of Maj'Eyal".

  10. for all it matters, Turlogh wears massive earrings


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