Monday, November 26, 2018

Crusaders of the Dark Savant: Ultima Thule

The game's tendency towards broad comedy continues.
Some commenters had suggested that I finish up on land before exploring the ocean, so for no other reason than an inexplicable desire to be contrary, I set off on a long ocean voyage. I decided to make my way to Ukpyr, the Umpani city, by first going west from New City and mapping my way around the perimeter of what the map calls the Sea of Sorrows. I'd eventually arrive back at the Eryn River, east of New City, and from there walk to Ukpyr.

Almost immediately, I ran into a problem. When I reached the northwest corner of the sea, near the game's starting area (for me), my map didn't match up. It wasn't off by just one row, as it was up near Nyctalinth, but rather four rows and one column. Thinking this couldn't possibly be right, I looped back around on land to check the accuracy of my previous map, and I encountered the same problem.
The two squares with the Xs are the same location, just at different coordinates depending on which side you approach from.
It got worse after that. If I take the sea east from New City to hook up with my previous map of the shores of the Eryn River, I find that I'm off by two rows and two columns. If I loop all the way around the Sea of Sorrows and come up to the other side of the Eryn River, I'm off by three columns and 11 rows. That seems crazy. But I consulted a couple of maps online and I don't seem to be wrong. Check out this map, for instance, and note how the creator had to stretch and distort parts of the map to make it all come together.

I frankly don't understand how it's technically possible for this to happen. I've played more than 200 tile-based RPGs, and never once has a game managed to screw up its maps this way. You'd think if it was easy, it would have happened multiple times. I think back to Fate: Gates of Dawn, which had the largest map we've seen so far, and yet not a tile was out of place. I probably wouldn't understand the underlying programming even if you explained it to me, but Crusaders must use an approach different from just about any other game to introduce these kinds of errors. Whatever the cause, it really dampened my enthusiasm for continuing to meticulously map the game.

My enthusiasm also took a hit for thematic reasons. I spent multiple hours mapping two offshoots from the Sea of Sorrows: the Myrmideon Forest on the west side and the Lesser Wilds on the east side. Both areas had plenty of random encounters, but neither had a single special encounter, treasure chest, or really any reason to exist.

The Sea itself was also full of random encounters, mostly with the red piranhas I'd previously mentioned, plus plenty of fights with various creatures in the flying jellyfish family. They were mostly somewhat easy, as if players were expected to find the boat long before I did.
Other creatures in this category are called "dinkle wisps."
The Myrmideon Forest, on the other hand, really kicked it up a notch. Its "vampire vultures" are the toughest variant of the generic "black bird" icon I've been encountering since the game's beginning. (The list I've recorded, in order of difficulty, are ravens, vultures, night rooks, dragon rooks, vampire rooks, fire crows, and vampire vultures.) There were several types of giant bugs, each with about a billion hit points. I had entered this session thinking my party was overpowered, but I got completely slaughtered by a party of eight "conquilados," which have a devastating physical attack, spit acid for mass damage, and seem immune to everything.
It's rare that I get full-party death from a random encounter.
I thought the Myrmideon Forest was coming to something when I ran into a road. The road made a loop around an area with a few walls that looked like buildings instead of forests, but there was nothing to find within this area. Maybe it turns out to be the exit from someplace.
This felt like it was leading to something.
On the south end of the Sea of Sorrows, I ran into a fog bank. Entering the fog bank caused my ship to run into things, or at least have a chance per round of running into things, causing damage to everyone on board. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to feel my way through this area (listed as Brombadian Bay on the map) or find some artifact that will let me pass. Either way, I left it alone for now.
On the other side of the sea, the Lesser Wilds were full of skeleton lords, which attacked me annoyingly in small groups of 1 or 2 instead of large groups that would be more susceptible to "Dispel Undead" and various mass-damage spells. I had a lot of trouble with them because "Dispel Undead" is a spirit realm spell, and by now I had exhausted most of my spirit realm points on healing. There were also a lot of monsters in the moth family. The area ended up leading to nothing important. I did level up a couple times during my explorations. Everyone is at Level 19 now, and the number of experience points between levels seems to have stabilized at 600,000.
These guys are capable of "Fireball" and thus not to be trifled with.
Eventually, I came full circle and headed to Ukpyr. Like some of the other areas of the map, Ukpyr is an ancient city that the Umpani--alien to this world--have recently taken over. The Umpani are a highly-regimented, martial society, and to even enter the city safely I had to say that I was interested in joining the Special Tactical Forces, a division of the Imperial Umpani Federation.
A good role-playing option.
I guess I could have fought and massacred my way through the map, but having already decided to oppose the T'Rang--enemies of the Umpani--I chose to role-play this one. I found the recruiting office, where Sergeant Balbrak welcomed me into the army and gave me my first set of "orders," to go to the supply depot and get some equipment.

The supply depot gave the party a couple of flak jackets, muskets, and shot and powder. (We had to pay almost 10,000 gold for these things, but that's a small fraction of the money I have now, with nothing to spend it on.) One distinguishing feature of the Umpani is that they have firearms, if only the muzzle-loading variety. From here, we went on to the firing range where every character took turns firing at a target, learning the "Firearms" skill in doing so. Every character can learn the skill, but in my party only the Valkyrie and lord can actually equip the musket. I doubt I'll use the weapons unless they become vital later on.
An Umpani tell us how to use the musket.
The next set of orders had us scouting the forest to the north of Ukpyr for a party of T'Rang. I had already mapped the forest, so we just wandered around until we found them. It was an easy combat, and when we returned Sergeant Balbrak gave us 5,000 gold.
Later, each character has a new "Firearms" skill.
Our next orders were to go to the Umpani mission in New City to deliver a message to a "master tracker" named Rodan Lewarx from the Umpani General Yamo. To get there, we were given a "Humpa Card" which allowed us to take the "Humpawhammer," the Umpani version of the T'Rang Anthracax--a teleporter between the city and the embassy in New City. 

We arrived in New City and gave Rodan his orders. He was excited, shouting about how Shritis T'Rang himself, the T'Rang leader, was here on Guardia and now Rodan could finally avenge his father's death. With that, he took off, leaving his orders behind. I read the orders, and they explicitly told Rodan not to seek out Shritis T'Rang. 
The Umpani are not a patient race.
The Umpani embassy has a door with nine digits that I don't have the code for, but I can get out to New City from here, which is a convenient shortcut. I now have to figure out whether to go back to Ukpyr and rat on Rodan or whether to head to Nyctalinth and try to stop him from getting killed (if that's even possible). 
Rodan didn't even try to comply with these orders.
The Umpani are a reasonably well-characterized faction, and I like that the game has offered some role-playing options (basically, play along or slaughter everyone) in almost all of the major areas. However, as with almost everything David Bradley-related, there's a patina of goofiness over the whole thing, and I find myself wishing the story went just a little deeper and featured less silly names and characterizations.

No new maps this time. I'm still not sure whether assembling all of them is strictly necessary. I hope not, as I'm ready for the game to be over. I think I'm just going to push on with Crusaders until I wrap it up, rather than alternating with the other games on my active list.

Time so far: 81 hours


  1. I think Fate used a single bitmap file to store the world map. In Wizardry 7, the world map is split into many seperate parts, with invisible teleporters connecting the parts. It's very easy to make a lineup mistake with that setup. My guess is the Wizardry 6 engine didn't support maps of that size and there wasn't enough time to update this aspect, or it was thought easy enough to work around it.

    I think the sea of sorrows contains some unfinished areas. The devils falls that appear on the map that came with the game weren't implemented, either.

    1. My guess would be to save space. Wiz 7 is already a large game, and while the game map is large in extent, most of it is just empty void. So this works as coarse form of map compression, storing only the 8x8 map segments (as explained by Anon below) where there actually is something. This cuts down both on the on-disk and in-memory system requirements.

  2. I have to say, this jellyfish fiend is ridiculously good looking. Ethereal almost.

  3. The whole map of W7 is stitched together of 8x8 square pieces, similiar to how W6's map was constructed

    That said, there are only three areas on the world map where it doesn't connect correctly

    1. "Only three areas" only applies if you're mapping optimally and happen to notice the breaks where they occur programatically. Depending on the player's actual mapping order and map construction, those "three" break points may cause exponentially more problems at different points in the map.

    2. I should note that this is doubly true if the errors are compounded. For instance, in my case, I mapped around the edge of the Sea of Sorrows starting from the northwest corner, where one of the errors occurs. By the time I reached the northeast, where the second error occurs, my map was off by a factor of both errors compounded. But when I approached the northeast area directly from New City, I wasn't influenced by the first offset and so I arrived at the same error point with a different offset than when I arrived the other way.

      This isn't trivial. It fundamentally breaks the trust between the developer and the player, especially a player who comes from a history of carefully mapping tiled games. There's no excuse for it.

    3. With a game as complicated as this one and with such a hacky world-building implementation it's practically inevitable that they'd screw it up somewhere. Invest in your tools or you'll regret it!

    4. I certainly agree, and we did warn you... This is completely unacceptable in a 1992 game, come on. It’s not like these areas have essential shapes that need to be preserved for some puzzle/design reasons. A basic testing would have spotted the issue and you can easily delete a few squares of forest/road in the nowhere. Then maybe it did and it was too late to fix. At least dungeon maps are good.

    5. > This isn't trivial. It fundamentally breaks the > trust between the developer and the player,
      > especially a player who comes from a history of
      > carefully mapping tiled games.
      > There's no excuse for it.

      There sort of is. Most people who played the game were expected to use the in-game map, and then you'll never see these breaks

      I agree its highly annoying when you actually map the world, but they clearly didn't expect people to do this

    6. I don't know if it's clear that they didn't expect it- why expect everyone to just stop mapping because of the auto-map? I mean, even if that was true it wouldn't be an excuse, it's faulty design no matter how you look at it, and a weird oversight for a series that spent 6 games completely focused on expecting the player to draw and navigate their own maps.

    7. I don't know what they expected, but I played the game a lot back then; not just one play-through, a lot! This bug was never an issue. I understand the sentiment of trust-breaking if you are the 'map everything'-type, but W7 is built in a way to make this unnecessary. The game funnels you everywhere.

      It never occurred to me to map all the outdoor areas either, and if you map indoors there just is no issue.

      Also I just disagree with the sentiment that "basic testing" would have necessarily found the issue. Actually W7 arrived pretty much bug-free when it was released. At that time other games like Masters of Magic were often bug-infested, which says to me, that the game was actually playtested a reasonable amount.

    8. Old text adventures got away with the nonsensical "endless" forest which really just looped back on itself unless you followed a specific pattern. I would expect a game of this caliber not to resort to such cheap tactics.

      From a developer perspective, this looks very suspicious... like multiple people were doing the maps of different regions and only realized late in the game's development they didn't align, so they just "fudged" it by hacking in teleports at the various points to sew them together.

      My own CRPG has maps that connect together at narrow points, this makes me realize I want to make sure things still align well so it doesn't create a similar disjointed feel...

    9. "I agree its highly annoying when you actually map the world, but they clearly didn't expect people to do this." That expectation is not "clear" at all to me. The map provided is hardly detailed enough to annotate each important square in the outer world, and the auto map is far too limiting. I'm not saying that manual mapping is absolutely necessary, but it could hardly be a surprise that many players would do it, especially since just about every previous Wizardry title required it.

    10. I don't know if it's clear that they didn't expect it- why expect everyone to just stop mapping because of the auto-map? I mean, even if that was true it wouldn't be an excuse, it's faulty design no matter how you look at it, and a weird oversight for a series that spent 6 games completely focused on expecting the player to draw and navigate their own maps.

    11. I think it was clear back then that you would use the automap whenever a game gave you an automap. After all, not everyone likes mapping on graph paper. For such players, that was something you did because you had to. By 1992 it had probably become more or less mandatory for RPGs like Wizardry to provide an automap, so it's reasonable to think that players were expected to rely on it. It's still not a GOOD excuse for the errors in W7's maps, but it can explain to some extent why they weren't noticed during playtesting.

    12. I'll often map on graph paper even if there's an auto-map today if I can't make my own annotations to the map. How does the auto-map handle these inconsistencies?

    13. I remember when I played this somewhere in the 90s, I mapped everything on paper. I also remember finding out there is an automap (either finding the required item or how to use it) relatively late in the game, then just sticking to mapping it manually.
      I do not have any memory of map glitches, although that might by just my memory. On the other hand, maybe it was less severe when mapping on paper, where you would have fragments instead of one large map anyway.

    14. The automap in this game isn't extensive or annotated enough to suffice as the only map. I'd like to see someone get through the 8-level teleporter dungeon (described in the next post) with just the automap.

      I may be overreacting a bit to the map glitches, but my point was largely that when you see that the creators have screwed up this badly, you lose faith that they haven't screwed up in other areas. It's easy to say "there's only three areas where the maps don't match," which is only technically true, but that ignores that I'm playing the game blind and I have no idea of knowing that. All I know is that after spending hours making meticulous maps, I find that the creators haven't bothered to adhere to even the most basic rules of mapping. I hope that you can at least acknowledge that it's discouraging.

    15. Given the type of game it is, after playing through 6 other wizardy games, if I came upon a misalignment the first thing i'd start doing is going back and trying to figure out what I missed. In wiz1-4 a map turning out like this equals an unnoticed teleport trap to go back and work out with endless dumapics

  4. For those of us who grew up with the Atari 2600, non-linear/non-wrapping maps are an old and familiar source of woe. Adventure, Superman, SwordQuest -- all of them had weird and hard-to-grok geometry. Text adventures do this constantly too.

    The only RPG I've played that does this -- at least the only one I recall -- is Super Hydlide on the Sega Genesis, where the world wraps with an offset of one screen.

    Of course all of this is screen-based, rather than tile-based, and the latter is exponentially worse. I have a nagging feeling that I've run into another game (RPG or otherwise) where I found, in the course of mapping it, that the tiles don't line up; can't think of what it is, though.

  5. About the Umpani vs go somewhere else thing: You don't have many loose ends on the continent left. Maybe finish up this one first? Might even help you tie up other loose ends...

  6. I've never found a reason for those areas off of the sea. Especially those ruins. Nothing at all :( Though there ARE a couple places you need to go.

    Also, if you can get one character's Firearms up high enough you can get three bullseyes while practicing. Which allows you to buy some slightly better gear once from the shop. And the black market sells more ammunition for the guns.

    There are a couple other gunlike weapons, but they can be skipped. They're good, but annoying to get ammo for.

    1. Note that you need to complete the firearms practice BEFORE completing your current mission with the Umpani.

  7. I like the idea of the Umpani, a space-faring alien race that nevertheless seems dependent on muzzle-loading firearms for warfare. It makes me think of a Harry Turtledove short story called "The Road Not Taken" where aliens arrive and invade Earth, only to discover that we are actually the more technologically advanced society - by centuries. Apparently we somehow just overlooked the extremely simple secret to interstellar travel, which the aliens realize with dawning horror they've just given to us.

    1. I love that story. It was hilariously subversive - this super-advanced alien civilization that has mastered interstellar travel arrives on Earth to conquer us by force, the doors of their starships open up - and these little teddy bear-looking critters come running out with six shooters. They promptly get shredded. If I recall, the ultimate thesis of the story was that since mankind was inexplicably late in discovering interstellar travel compared to other galactic races, we devoted all of the energy and innovation into perfecting warfare that would have otherwise gone into space exploration. Basically we were stuck on our little rock and became masters of fighting over it. Brilliant stuff.

    2. The premise wasn't "we put all our emphasis into war instead of space travel", it was "The One Weird Trick to gravity manipulation is really simple to do, and extremely easy to figure out by accident, but it is so weird that it breaks science". Every culture in that story finds technological and scientific stasis at the point they discover it.

    3. I just found and read the story. Thanks for introducing me to it.

    4. You might find Turtledove's other alien invasion story interesting as well. The Worldwar series involves aliens with mostly late-90s military technology invading in 1942 - the catch being that their culture has evolved to develop very slowly, and it takes literal generations to develop new tech.

    5. This Turtledove´s short story is brilliant. At first you cheer with the humans how they - or rather WE - are able to slaughter those aliens, because in so many films and books we are the losing side. But the end was at least for me a complete reversal. SPOILER ... When the furries realised that the humans got the only thing that prevented them from conquest of stars , I started to feel sorry for all the races including furries.

    6. Obviously not trying to start an internet argument here, but as a point of clarification, the story specifically mentions that races that discover interstellar travel devote all of their "creative energy" into perfecting it, whereas mankind's technology evolves in "a different direction" because we didn't. So the whole reason our warfare capabilities are so much more advanced is because we never discovered interstellar travel on our own. So both premises are accurate.

    7. Wow, I loved that short story, and I never expected a discussion of it here, though at this point I probably should.

  8. "This is a song for the wolf.
    The animal."

    Ultima Thule, live

  9. Basically, you just released Rodan. So now you will be encountering him like the other mobile NPCs. I have never played a game where where either Rodan or Shritis killed one another. Usually the party kills one or the other or both or whatever.

    1. Great. I was just thinking that what the game really needs is more wandering NPCs with six screens of introductory text I have to acknowledge every time they show up.

    2. Honestly, when I played this game that became so frustrating I just started killing them all. (I suspect this was a fairly common solution.)

    3. Just don't kill Brother T'Shober. There are consequences.

    4. Although the game makes a great play about having roving NPCs with their own agenda, I find that if you do not rely on the maps, that they do not matter much. Maybe they are killing each other out in the wild; such is the report. Nevertheless, it does not seem to have an appreciable effect on your party's actions.
      I am not criticizing this. Far too many games assume the party as the only prime mover.

  10. I kept running into Shritis and Rodan mere squares apart, yet never do the twain meet.


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