Friday, June 8, 2018

UnReal World [v. 1.00b]: Won? (with Summary and Rating)

My "winning" character.
UnReal World [v. 1.00b]
Three Relaxed Byte-Biters (developer)
Released in 1992 for DOS as shareware
Date Started: 27 May 2018
Date Ended: 6 June 2018
Total Hours: 15
Difficulty: Moderate (3/5). Would be easy (2/5) except for permadath.
Final Rating: 38
Ranking at time of posting: 232/294 (79%)

UnReal World continued to offer enjoyable mechanics for the rest of its short length and moderate difficulty. I say "moderate difficulty," but of course any game with permadeath has unique difficulty considerations even if normal gameplay is quite easy. As it turns out, UnReal World is quite serious about its permadeath. After my priest died, I started taking copies of the save game every few levels. When my third character got killed--like the first, by a minotaur--I restored the backup and fired up the game again. This is what I got:
This game is hardcore.
Wow. The game doesn't just delete your character when you die; it actually stores the fact of his death in one of its files, so you can't just restore and reload. I couldn't figure out how it was doing it. I tried deleting the character from the "high score" file, but that didn't do it. I looked at all the files that had been modified at the same time the character died, but I couldn't find anything explicit in any of them. Re-naming the save game file did no good. I opened the save game file in a hex editor and re-named the character, but the game still saw right through that. The developers did not want people to cheat.

I'm sure I could have figured it out eventually, but I decided to move forward honestly. The game isn't so hard that you can't win without cheating, even with permadeath. As we'll see, there are few NetHack-like threats to your well-being. There are no spellcasting enemies, no dragons, nothing capable of stoning or paralyzing you. I think it even prevents you from dying from poison by setting a minimum hit point threshold, after which the poison wears off naturally.

I won with my fifth character, a dwarf hunter. Hunters have a reasonably easy time because as long as they can find a single tree, they can search repeatedly for food and healing herbs.
That one tree is going to cure my hunger and wounds.
I used the hunter's ability to self-heal to game the virtue system. When you level-up, you get bonuses for each virtue that you've raised over a certain threshold. You can slowly build these virtues by the way you act in the game (though I never did figure out how to build honesty), but the easiest way is by praying at an altar and sacrificing hit points. All I had to do was find an altar near a tree, and I could sacrifice my hit points, run to the tree to heal, and run back to the altar. Soon, I was getting the bonuses on every level increase.
Not "cheating" so much as "exploiting."
The dungeon consists of 18 levels, and they're not quite as random as the typical NetHack dungeon. In NetHack, you can theoretically find special encounters like shops, altars, and treasure zoos, but there's no guarantee that you will. Some games never generate a shop. In UnReal World, on the other hand, it seems that the same encounters and special areas will be found in every randomly-generated dungeon, just in different places. Some of the things I always found on the way down were:

  • Copious altars and confessionals.
  • A potion store-room guarded by a zombie alchemist
  • An ancient library full of magic scrolls, guarded by several zombie librarians
  • One level with a single tree and one level with a small copse of trees
  • Beds for getting a better night's rest
  • A room where all the doors close when you walk into it, but there's a pick-axe somewhere in the room and you can use it to get out
  • A priest looking for a holy item; he gives you a salt jar if you find it for him
  • An alchemist who will sell and identify potions
He's apparently from New Jersey.
  • A mage who will identify wands and staves
  • A warrior priest proselytizing about a god named Thunder 
Levels 6, 12, and 18 are special levels in which all the squares are open. Each has one of the three keys that you need to enter the Doom-Tower. Level 6 is a giant swamp full of "bloodsuckers" and sinkholes. Level 12 is a "Dryad Forest" full of wood nymphs. When they're near they can cause trees to smack you with their branches and weeds to trip you. It's a pretty easy level for a hunter, though, because he can just stop and heal whenever he wants.
Getting through the slightly-annoying Dryad Forest.
The monsters get really tough after Level 12, and I decided to avoid them as much as possible. Minotaurs, Olog-Hais, cave bears, and pythons are capable of pounding away more than half your hit points in a single blow. Two unlucky rounds are enough to kill you. I used the resources I had--Wands of Confuse Monster, Scrolls of Teleport, and so forth--to get around them as much as I could.  
One of the more amusing combat messages, as I battle a minotaur.
Level 18 is a weird level called "Emptiness," which is literally just a huge square of empty tiles except the one that has the third key. There are no monsters, traps, or anything.

Once I had all three keys, I returned to the surface and entered the Doom-Tower in the northern part of the outdoor map. The single tower level had about 8 doors that I had to unlock with the keys. There was another altar and confessional, and a bedroom with two beds.
The interior of the tower.
The center part of the tower had a winding corridor that ended in a single square. When I stepped in it, I got the message below.
A crummy commercial?
Huh? I have no idea what this message is referring to. There is no inn anywhere in the outdoor map. "NIGHT CAP" seems to be some kind of password, but I can't find anyone to give it to, and you can't just feed keywords to most NPCs anyway. Is it setting up a part of the adventure that was never built? Is it a tragic joke about how just because there's a big formidable tower in the center of town, there isn't always something valuable inside? I've no idea. I wrote to Mr. Maaranen, but no response as yet.

Lacking anything else to do, I guess I'm going to consider that a win. Obviously, the end--if that's what I experienced--is a bit of a let-down, but I'm not letting it detract from the things I liked about the game. A few things I discovered since last time:
  • The game rewards you with experience for much more than just killing enemies. You get it for finding gold, successfully using (and identifying) magic items for the first time, finding traps, using your class's special skills, transitioning levels, and probably some other things I didn't notice.
  • If you have a lockpick, you can use it to lock doors behind you and prevent enemy pursuit.
  • You can find horses in the dungeon and ride them, allowing you to easily outrun enemies. You can't fight with melee weapons from horseback, but you can shoot missile weapons.
Mounting a horse.
  • Like NetHack, you find fortune cookies that give you hints.
I think this is referring to an encounter where you open a barrel and there's a zombie inside.
  • There's a potion that allows you to eat any item as if it was food. Late in the game when I was out of food and didn't have a tree nearby, I used the potion and ate an extra staff.
  • If you find a flute, you can use it to charm snakes.
  • You can climb up on furniture and jump on enemies like you're in WrestleMania or something.
Uruk-Hai would be a good name for a wrestler.
  • Much like Ultima V, you can move items of furniture--beds, chairs, cabinets, and so forth--to block certain passages.
  • The engine supports keyword-based dialogues with some NPCs but doesn't really employ it very well.
Following his prompting, I said "death to orcs," and he gave me a lamp.
There were a few things I disliked, principally the fact that when you get tired, you have to acknowledge the message every single move until you sleep. Also, you have to sleep multiple times successfully to stop being tired, and every one causes you to wake up hungry.

There were some game elements that I never understood. Here are a few:
  • For a while, the game seems to be interested in assigning titles to the various character levels. You start as "Stranger in a Strangeland" at Level 1, then move up to "Coward," "Believer," and finally "Clergyman." It stops there no matter how many levels you attain. All classes get these same titles, which are obviously a bit weird.
  • Every time you kill a zombie, you get this message: "You hear frightening, gruesome laughing echoing in the room! Human zombie screams as maniac. Some winged and horned creatures appear and catch the soul coming from human zombie's body . . . and everything is silent again." No other creature has a death message like this.
  • You can get friendly monsters to follow you by speaking to them and using the "leadership" option. Once they start following you, they disappear, and the only way you know they're with you is that every time you invoke the "chat" command, the game asks whether you want to chat with your follower. I have no idea what they do for you. They don't seem to increase any statistics or act in combat. I carried an orc with me the entire game before letting him go in the tower. As he left, he complained that he didn't know why I'd dragged him all the way there.
Getting an orc follower. For some reason.
  • No enemy in the game is capable of causing fire damage, and yet there are potions and wands of Resist Fire.
  • One of the items you can find is a makeup kit, which does nothing for you but can theoretically increase the charisma of NPCs. Why?
  • There's a "pull lever" command that's never employed.
  • A "drink" command allows you to slurp from bodies of water, but there's no "thirst" statistic so no real reason to do so.
  • Even though the random generation process can create disconnected areas in the dungeons, I never found a single secret door. I only got into the hidden areas by bashing through with my pick-axe.
Most of these points are probably answered by the fact that the engine was intended to support multiple campaigns, including some of greater complexity.

In a GIMLET, the combination of the engine and this campaign earns:
  • 1 point for the game world. The backstory about the creation of the universe really has no relevance in the game itself, and the game itself tells no story.
  • 5 points for character creation and development. The selection of 6 races and 6 classes offer a variety of approaches to gameplay, with each class (in particular) facing a different experience. Leveling up occurs frequently and offers relatively tangible rewards. The virtue system is under-developed but still an interesting addition.
  • 3 points for NPC interaction. There are wandering NPCs who offer services, conversation, and the occasional side quest. I'm not sure I understood what all of them were about. Some will even join you but, as above, I don't know to what end.
An elf taunts me for no reason.
  • 4 points for encounters and foes. The monsters are mostly D&D-derived standards, with few special attacks. I did like the way that some of them responded to specific objects: salt kills zombies, holy items turn skeletons, flutes charm snakes, and so forth. I also loved how you could look at them and get a sense of their condition and equipment.
  • 5 points for magic and combat. The game has a typical roguelike's sense of tactics, with the addition of allowing multiple attack types (including shield bashing, which I didn't cover) depending on the weapon and each character's set of special abilities. Clerics, mages, and priests also have a small selection of spells.
Fighting with a two-handed sword.
  • 5 points for equipment. In variety, it's not quite as good as NetHack or even Rogue. I think the engine supports magic weapons and armor with various pluses, but I never found any in this campaign. There are otherwise fewer types of wands, scrolls, and potions with fewer effects. On the other hand, any game that gives you a primary weapon, a secondary weapon, missile weapons, and separate armor slots for head, arms, hands, torso, waist, legs, feet, and back can't be all bad.
  • 4 points for economy. It holds up pretty well, with the ability to buy items in shops, identify items with wandering NPCs, get specialized weapon training (I didn't really explore this), and sacrifice gold at altars for virtue boosts. There's even a casino, though I didn't spend much time there. On the other hand, you can get through most of this campaign without doing any of those things.
A wandering merchant saves me from starving.
  • 2 points for quests. I was so disappointed with the end that I only give it one point there, but there are also a couple of NPC-based side quests.
  • 3 points for graphics, sound, and interface, mostly going to the interface, which like most roguelikes is easy to master. I thought the graphics worked reasonably well, but the sound was just bloops with the occasional unwelcome passage of music.
  • 6 points for gameplay. A bit linear, but with an excellent sense of pacing and a lot of replayability given the randomization and different classes. More important, I like the difficulty level here. It has NetHack's permadeath, but much milder gameplay and a smaller dungeon make it far less punishing than the typical roguelike.
That gives us a final score of 38, which doesn't sound very high but puts the game solidly in my "recommended" zone, and it beats every roguelike I've played so far except NetHack v. 3 (44), which had better character development, combat tactics, and the best approach to RPG equipment that we've seen so far in the chronology.
Kicking this door open conferred something of a bonus.
As we discussed last time, this is only the beginning of the UnReal World saga. Principal developers Sami Maaranen and Erkka Lehmus (with Jussi Kantola, they make up the original "Three Relaxed Byte-Biters") would continue to issue near-yearly releases all the way to the present day. (Incidentally, Maaranen was only 15 when the first version came out in 1992. This may be the first game I've played whose developer was born after me.) The official development history shows that the next major releases, in 1994, greatly expanded the wilderness and introduced a lot more survival elements, with skills such as fishing, foraging, swimming, and tracking. Instead of classic D&D-derived character classes, you play as a fisherman, hunter, legionnaire, or locksmith--although fantasy races (elf, dwarf, orc, etc.) are still present.

I'm not sure that the 1994 editions (v. 2.00b-2.03) still exist anywhere. The earliest I've been able to find after v. 1.00b is v. 2.09 from 1996. By then, the game had been fully stripped of its high fantasy themes, all characters are human (from different tribes), and surviving in a harsh world became the primary quest.

When I reach 1994, I'll take another scan and see if those versions have turned up; otherwise, we'll have to wait until 1996. Either way, I look forward to seeing how this unique and clever series develops.


  1. God of thunder is likely Perkele or Perkunnas (estonian) who wasthe god of thunder in pagan times and still used as a curse word.

    So an inside joke if you will and also is that maaranen or määränen ?

  2. If Mr Maaranen replies to your email, maybe you can ask him if he still has one of the older versions ofthe game somewhere? Chances are probably slim since the devs probably didn't see any need to keep an obsolete version from 1994 backed up on their hard drives, but it would be worth a try.

  3. Heh, heh. I like the storerooms guarded by zombies of their former occupants. Nice touch.


    Heh, I also like locking doors to prevent pursuit. I got used to doing that in nethack. Imagine my horror the first time it didn't work: I went through a door with a monster in hot pursuit, I closed it, locked it, and then the monster burst through the door and kept coming. It's moments like that that make a game worth playing.

    1. With abstract graphics like this, you can excuse almost any kind of terrain. In a modern game, I might actually be bothered finding a tree living on the 8th level of a dungeon if there was no clear light source, but here you can imagine a hole to the surface or something.

    2. Why would you *need* to excuse it, though? It's a game, not a simulation. Who cares? Why is it important?

    3. Who cares? Literally anyone whose enjoyment of a fantasy world is enhanced by verisimilitude.

  4. " I carried an orc with me the entire game before letting him go in the tower. As he left, he complained that he didn't know why I'd dragged him all the way there."

    I fell off my chair, this was hilarious!

    1. I wish I'd taken screenshots. I didn't really understand what was happening until it was over.

  5. Hmm, well that's neat. I tried it but didn't get very far. I didn't like how the enemies seemed like they could attack and step back; I had to chase them into a corner to actually attack them.

    1. There are a couple that do that. I meant to talk about them but didn't get a chance. They're mostly gone after the first two levels. It isn't so hard to just let them go.

  6. The Finns are said to have a special sense of humor...a *dark* one. If someone needed proof for this, just let him play this game.

    1. I've learned more about Finland and Finns from this and SpurguX than I did in the previous 43 years of my life. That's kind of pathetic but also kind of cool.

  7. The game probably saves some information into other files as well. Simply backing up the whole folder will likely defeat the backup protection. But it's a clever idea. Are there any other permadeath games that do this?

    1. ADOM does I believe but the game is made in a way that dying is often likely preventable ie. you can see it coming from miles away which is quite unsual for a rogue like.

  8. If you're making copies during gameplay and getting issues, then it probably writes something that means "This file is in use" to your save when you *Load* it, and when you save it erases that data. So if you try to load a file that you copy during gameplay, it will have the "in use" flag. That's how Animal Crossing did it on the GameCube at least. The only drawback is if the power goes out, the save is useless unless you know how to fix it.

  9. If I was scoring this game I´d take 3 points off for the graphics being terrible, and for copying elements of other games I´d punish it a further 5 points. Chet you´re almost being too kind to the maker of this game. Even giving it a 30 by my scoring seems to be over positive.
    permadeath is not friendly to the player and having characters like zombies and priests in games is just getting annoying. These older type programmers just spent too much time copying each other. For unoriginality I´d in fact penalize the game a further 10, no less, points. Giving a final score from me of 20. Yep, 20. Call me Mr Tough and Real.

    1. I've never been "kind" in my life. I honestly enjoyed the game at the level I rated it. If I took off points for "copying elements of other games," there would be 6 games on my list that broke 30.

    2. I just don't *get* people who judge ancient games harshly. The graphics terrible? It's ANSI. You were expecting DOOM?

    3. I don't understand why graphics are deemed so important by a lot of people. If the programmers had spent more time on flashy graphics than on content, this game would still look ugly compared to modern games. At least now it still seems enjoyable, if you like roguelikes (I don't - I don't like permadeath either, but I understand it belongs in the genre and I understand how it can make games more tense).

      Dave, are you really serious in your comment? Because if you are, I really wonder what games you like: you dislike unoriginal games, but almost every modern game copies - a lot - from older games, books, films, … And most games that can claim to be original were released in the early eighties and have absolutely horrible graphics, which you dislike as well.

    4. Probably thought it was made with UnReal engine. XD

    5. It's not unfair it's just a matter of preferences. When I play a game that graphically represents something more realistically, artistically or cleverly than I've seen done before, I experience a sense of wonder/awe.

  10. You rated another roguelike game higher: Omega (1988) with a score of 53.

  11. I'm pretty curious about the modern version after this!

    1. I tried it; it's a lifestyle game. You have to pretty much have either grown up with it from the start, or devote all your gaming time to it to get good. Or be really in to wilderness survival simulations.

    2. Ahh that's an interesting term. I can't really do games with long learning curves any more. Dwarf Fortress and KSP will remain in my 'unplayed' column for this reason.

    3. Never heard of it? Lifestyle game refers to games like Advanced Squad Leader or Go, whose players pretty much play the one game and that's it.

  12. Wait a minute. If there's a system for saying things to NPCs, then why didn't you try saying Night Cap to them once you got to the "end screen"? Could be there's an NPC who will respond to Night Cap and set you off on the next main quest. Just an idea.

    1. There are only a couple of NPCs per game that you can have those sorts of conversations with, and alas neither react to NIGHT CAP. Good idea though.

    2. Considering the slightly broken English translation of the game, I'm pretty sure it's just an inn called "nightcap," as in a cap worn in bed, or a drink taken shortly before going to bed. The "a" is likely supposed to be "the." Finnish does not use the definite or indefinite article, so mistakes in this aspect of English are common.

      At any rate, it's not mentioned anywhere else in the game files. If it was a password, it would likely be in the file URW.GOD, where the rest of them are stored.

    3. Wow, the developers had some harsh language for anyone opening URW.GOD directly.

      I looked at some of the other files to see if they had any clues. The UWRRUMOR file has all the fortune cookie rumors in the game; I suppose there must be other ways you can get these, too. My favorite is, "Whore may have a disease - but whore can also make you feel good and healthy."

    4. Oh man, could you please put this on the blog? Judging from the death copy message this harsh language will be a hoot!

    5. "Night cap" can also be a literal translation of yömyssy, ie. a drink you take to make falling asleep easier. Maybe it's related to drinking somehow?

    6. "You're f***ing cheater if you read these lines like this!!!"

      That was the harsh language. There's also some pretty bad English:

      "You are covered with shining ring."
      "Scroll erupts in tower of flame. You are covered with fire!"
      "All nails which were nailed to the nearby you are unstucking."
      "It has evil meanings."
      "I am double-dead undead now."

    7. "All nails which were nailed to the nearby you are unstucking."
      "I am double-dead undead now."

      These are amazing.

    8. If someone double-dead undeads you, then you have to lick a flagpole.

  13. Perhaps it means the tower itself is the inn. Seems like a long shot but maybe sleeping in the beds does something, possibly after drinking a potion of some sort (i.e. a nightcap)?

  14. One trick that anti-savescumming games use is to encode the creation date of the file into the file itself. If you use an ordinary copy command, it won't preserve the dates correctly.

    My usual go-to for cases like this is to use an archiving program, typically WinRAR. The robocopy command-line tool (I think it's included in Windows) may also work, but I've never actually used it; I just now looked at its help documentation. It has A LOT of command-line switches, and some of them look pretty promising. If it is a date-based protection, I think there's a good chance you could work around the problem that way. But I know WinRAR works (which is payware), and strongly suspect that the freeware 7zip would as well.

    1. I wonder if the same "he's dead" message appears even for a character that's still alive, but you try to restore an earlier save. That would tell us if it's using just the date of the file or if there's a flag being written somewhere that says a character is dead.

    2. I took another stab at figuring it out with a fresh installation. Here's what I can report.

      1. When you create a new PC, one file is created (with the name you specify and a .URS extension), and two are modified: URW.PLD and $$$.URW. Both are plain text files and store only the most recently-created PC. URW.PLD has the character name, and $$$.URW has the file name, twice in a row.

      2. When you die, the game deletes the .URS file and modifies URW.PLD with a random name ("Kissa").

      3. Thus, in restoring a backup of the save, you also have to open and edit URW.PLD and replace "Kissa" with the name of your dead character. Then, everything works okay.

      The weird by-product of all of this is that you can't have more than one active character at a time. If you create a new character the game overwrites both URW.PLD and $$$.URW with the new character and assumes any previous character is dead. You have to modify both of these files to "resurrect" (even if he hasn't died) an earlier character.

      I should have been able to figure this out earlier, but a bunch of game map files also get modified whenever you quit the game (including when a character dies), so the ones I really needed were hard to identify among half a dozen others.

  15. I do remember very, very briefly playing a 'survival in mythical Finland' version of this game back in the mid-late nineties. I had no idea about this version, I'm amazed it sounds like such a full-featured game. I thought I knew something about Finnish shareware games..

  16. The modern UnReal World is so different from this version that they're completely unrecognisable from one another. I like love roguelikes, survival games and simulations but that one is way too much for me, I just can't get into it.

  17. "You start as "Stranger in a Strangeland" at Level 1".

    Hmm, could just be a generic use of the expression which I just learned goes back all the way to Exodus in the Bible. There is the Heinlein book and lots of songs. Given the survivalist angle, it might allude to the 1986 Iron Maiden one which is about an Arctic Explorer who dies in the frozen wilderness and is found a hundred years later. Though I understand from Chet's entries the more detailed survival features and Finnish background were only introduced in later versions, so maybe there is actually nothing to it.

    Stranger in a strange land
    Land of ice and snow
    Trapped inside this prison
    Lost and far from home

  18. Hi Chet,

    Late reply to this entry, but I wanted to say that I am currently doing a playthrough of UnReal World v2.02 for DOS right now. It should be available online in various places now, but if for some reason you still have trouble finding it, let me know.


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