Friday, February 1, 2019

Lords of Time: You Knew Just What I Was There For

If The Realm has the phrase, "once in a blue moon," it must mean "quite often."
           
When we last checked in with Major Thom, he was trying to get into the Druid Temple but didn't know how to determine whether it was a night of a blue moon. It turns out that the game tells you quite explicitly in the text that the moon is blue, so I needn’t have worried. On the night of the blue moon, at midnight, I burned the four sacred plants in the four braziers, and the way to the temple opened.

The temple started off easy enough. The first level had a little shop and a library. At the shop, I bought a druid cloak. Books in the library confirmed that the world of The Realm is flat, and said that the Druid Book of Life holds the most powerful spells in The Realm and must not fall into the wrong hands. 

On a conference table, I found a memo that indicated that the Council of Druids had declined to help Bessak. "He will have to fight Kruel alone," it said. Unfortunately, there was no word on where Bessak went after that.
            
At first, I thought the game was making an homage to Maurice Sendak, but now I see that it's "Senoak."
             
The second level of the temple got a lot harder. It was a giant maze with four different entrances, swarming with druids who attacked me with some kind of force lightning. I hoped the druid cloak would disguise me, but it didn't do anything. I swiftly started to run out of clear and blue potions, which restore health and spell points respectively. Enemies respawn as quickly indoors as they do outdoors, so there's no way to clear them all and yet fewer ways to run away from them.
            
One of the books in the library notes that druids have an inexplicable love for mazes.
       
At the same time, another problem became clear. I hadn't slept since waking up that morning. Since the Druid Temple requires you to stay up until midnight to even enter, you're bound to run into fatigue problems unless you plan accordingly by staying up the previous night and then sleeping until dusk on the day that you go to open the temple. There are no beds in the temple, and I later confirmed that you can't open the temple on one day, then go away to sleep, then come back to enter. The door closes while you're away.

Still, I pushed forward. The second level maze (a book said that druids love mazes) led to a stairway to a third level, where a bunch of twisting corridors--again swarming with hostile druids--led to the shore of an underground lake. Since you can't swim in this game, the only way I could find to cross the lake was to quaff a green potion, which polymorphs you into a frog. I had two green potions at the time.
           
Where's Baba Yaga when you need her?
          
I soon discovered that there were two "exits" from the lake, both leading to small caverns with large spellbooks on pedestals. One cavern was blocked by a wall of fire, but the druid cloak protects against it. The first spellbook had something called "Mascar's Spell of Protection"; the second had a "Mage Annulment Spell."
              
Getting one of the druid spells on my second visit. I forgot to take a shot on my first.
         
Unfortunately, by this point, I was dead on my feet from exhaustion, I had no way to keep fighting the druids, and because I had used both green potions to get to the two chambers, I had no way to get back to the exit. I had to reload a saved game from before entering the temple.

Upon reloading, I had a plan: grind a bit; buy more clear, blue, and green potions; take the rest of the training courses; return in four days and try again. A commenter had said that blue moons occurred on nights 2 and 6, and I had entered the Druid Temple on night 14, so naturally I assumed they came along every 4 days. I planned my return for night 18.

In the next few days, I accomplished most of my list. I spent a little time fighting random enemies and got my experience points over 11,000--the highest value needed for any of the training courses. In Murkvale and Castleguard, I took "Advanced Lockpicking," "Transformations," "Advanced Swordplay," and "Advanced Spellcasting." With the money I made while grinding, I bought about a dozen of the blue and clear potions. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any place that sold green potions. But I figured I'd try again and perhaps find an exit or some other resource that I missed the first time.
          
The final guild course, which requires 11,000 experience.
        
Then the blue moon came unexpectedly on night 17. I was nowhere near the temple. To make sure this didn't happen again, I saved the game and then burned a few days in Castleguard, watching for the next blue moon. It came on night 22, as I would have expected. So I'm not sure why night 17/18 was the one weird departure from the pattern.

Anyway, that gave me four days to screw around, so I decided to revisit some of the mountain locations. I originally set out hoping to find the dragon's cavern and kill it with dragonsbane, but I couldn't find it again. I couldn't even find a cavern of the same shape as the image in my last entry, so it wasn't just a matter of the dragon not being there. I stopped at the occult shop and sold my wyvern eggs, hoping their absence would stop wyverns from dive-bombing me with rocks, but it didn't do anything.

But while searching the mountains, I was surprised to find that my lockpicking skill now worked at Lord Dertak's Holde. (The game map has it as "Dervak," but all the text in the castle gives it as "Dertak.") Entering, I found a large dwarven keep of two levels. Among the books in the library and the few NPCs in the tavern, I learned that dwarves are the original inhabitants of The Realm. Humans encroached later, and the dwarves "deeply despise" the human settlements. The dwarven population has been declining for centuries, forcing them to abandon the "island keep." Dertak, meanwhile, is said to be an amiable dwarf who bears humans no particular ill will. He has been known to grant humans favors in return for gifts. He particularly likes jewels.
            
I get some lore from a bartender . . .
. . . and more from a book.
         
When I encountered Dertak, he wasn't impressed by anything I owned, including the several jewels. But the trip was useful for other reasons. A shop in the keep sold enchanted swords and armor, and I had enough to purchase one of each. Moreover, I found both a third green potion and something called "Grorph's Spell of Exiting," both of which sounded like they'd solve my problem getting out of the Druid Temple. A couple of skeleton keys led to a winding series of caverns where I found a treasure hoard and something called "Kruel's Winterblast Spell."

I still had a couple of days, so I returned to the mines west of Castleguard and employed my pick axe. Sure enough, I found a few generic jewels but also one that the game called out as a particularly large jewel.
         
This seems promising.
        
When I took the large jewel back to Dertak, he gave me a letter of recommendation for the dwarven high king, whose "holde" is in the mountain range north of Dertak's. With one day remaining before the blue moon, I went there.
             
Dertak is pleased with my offering.
        
I had to bribe the guard to get through the first level. On the second level, I ran into some kind of golem who dissolved into mud when I defeated him.
          
No idea what this was about.
      
The third level had the living quarters of the hold, but unlike Dertak's, it was swarming with (respawning) hostile dwarves who attacked me. (They're the same dwarves who attack on the surface.) Fighting my way through them, I reached the dwarven high king, who didn't seem to mind that I'd made my way to him by slaughtering his subjects. He took the letter and gave me in return a jeweled key that unlocks the door on the abandoned island keep. He then "expelled" me from his hold, which took me back outside automatically instead of forcing me to fight through dwarves. That was nice.
            
I think the bodies behind me are evidence of "my own valor."
          
I had just enough time to make it to the Druid Temple--and again through that damned maze--before midnight. I did the ritual again and opened the door. This time, things went a bit easier. I got the two spells from the books and decided to use the exit spell (rather than the third green potion) to get out.
              
I really hope I don't need that somewhere else.
        
I checked my statistics and was surprised to find that my "score" had risen from 10 to 110 (out of 190). In one session, I went from 5% game completion to almost 60%.

I returned to Bessak's keep, thinking he might show up there now that I'd found the spells he wanted from the druids, but he was nowhere to be found. So the only thing I can think to do at this point is to try the island keep.

Before I go, I have to spend some more time complaining about the combat system. It's not just bad; it's exhausting. The animated .gif below shows what happens when you stop and pause for just a few seconds.
         
The hero makes the mistake of pausing by the riverside.
         
Enemies spawn constantly, and stopping to fight one is just an invitation for others to swarm you. You never really "end" combat; you just finally decide to break away. Getting from one place to another becomes an extremely tedious affair.

The combat system itself makes it worse. Victory and defeat are a matter of pixels--in a game where the graphics and controls aren't quite good enough to find-tune your alignment. And upgrades in equipment don't seem to make things much easier. I hardly notice a difference between wearing enchanted armor and wearing nothing. All the guild courses, attribute increases, and investments in increasingly-better weapons have only marginally improved upon my character's performance with a pocket knife at the very beginning of the game.

Offensive spells don't help much. "Fireball" (which you can equip like a weapon) doesn't do any better than physical attacks and it's very hard to aim. (The same is true of missile weapons.) "Pinok's Paralyzing Spell" (which freezes every enemy on the screen) and "Fistak's Fear Spell" (which causes them to run away) are theoretically useful but have such a high cost that you can't rely on them.
        
The "Fear" spell sends enemies scurrying away but costs 50 points.
         
Still, experimenting with spells for the purposes of writing this entry led to some interesting results. At some point, I collected a spell called "Wyvern Morphing Spell," which transforms you to a wyvern. It only works outdoors, but it's probably my key to getting to the island keep, unless I want to rent a raft and paddle it all the way up from the delta. I otherwise don't know the purpose of renting rafts, though.

"Kruel's Winterblast Spell" sounds like an offensive combat spell, but instead it's more akin to Ultima's "Armageddon," turning the whole world to ice. I don't know when I'll need such a spell, but it doesn't seem like something I want to cast randomly.
            
The spell froze the sea serpent that was on-screen at the time, but that didn't stop a wolf from spawning and attacking while I was taking this screen shot.
          
The uses of "Grorph's Spell of Darkness" are equally mysterious--it blankets the area around you in darkness, making it impossible to see. Two others--"Mascar's Spell of Protection" and "Portal Activation Spell"--never seem to do anything no matter where I use them.

Lords of Time has some decent moments when it comes to exploration and puzzle-solving, unfortunately marred by the enemy and combat systems. I'm ready to enter the home stretch. I just hope that by the end, the game delivers some kind of explanation for its title.

Time so far: 20 hours

****

If anyone has played and gotten anywhere with the 1989 text-RPG hybrid Advanced Xoru, I'd appreciate a line. I thought it would be a quick one, but I'm hopelessly stuck.

26 comments:

  1. That maze doesn't work too well with the game's perspective... Good to see you're making some headway. Let's just hope you're not hopelessly stuck for some dumb reason. This seems like the type of game that would do that to players.

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    1. The perspective is super confusing, I keep misreading the screenshots...

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    2. The screenshots look weird to me, too. It helps to see it in motion.

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    3. I had similar issues with the graphics in one of the Ultima games - everything looks overbalanced or tilted in a precarious way that makes me feel weirdly uneasy. The weird thing is if I mirror-flip the image, it looks fine to me - it seems my brain just dislikes the tilt to the left specifically. Maybe something to do with used to reading English and therefore images left to right?

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  2. Damn. This entry really makes a part of me want to try that game! You had quite a lot to do, and it was quite diverse.
    But... Damn, that combat system !

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  3. Sounds super unappealing. The Spell of Protection and Portal Activation sound definitely like MacGuffin spells, so it'll probably be clear when it's time to use them.

    Did you already try the portal spell in the stone rings?

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  4. How far did you get with Advanced Xoru? I gave it a try but I'm not very good at these kind of games. Finding the alchemists shop and the Ant-e room were my only achievements so far (completing 18%).

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    1. I got to 29% in a couple hours. I didn't map anything though, and now I've lost track of what to do, plus I lost a lot of treasure. I'll give it a real shot over the weekend. It's pretty fun, but I don't know how much of an RPG this really is. Definitely more of a text adventure feel.

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    2. I got to 43%. I can't figure out what to do in the "Ant-E-Room" but I found it. I can't figure out what to do in the large cavern with the statue and the broken jug. I'm sure it involves replacing it with the ceramic jug that you can find, but I can't figure out the right set of commands.

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    3. It's not much of an RPG, but a commenter persuaded me to look at it again. I've corresponded with the author and I have a lot of material on it, so I don't want it to go to waste.

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    4. Got a bit further, at 41%, but can't figure out a number of things in addition to Ant-E room and jug cavern:

      Bullet room - no exits, it only has an idol that I can't seem to do anything with.

      Pillar room - Square depression carved on the east side, but nothing I put in there seems to fit or do anything.

      Lower elevator - it says it has two triangles to press, but no matter which I press I'm always taken to the Corridor room with no way back.

      Lions - I'm not sure how to get past them either.

      The game seems to have trouble with pulling descriptions for places that don't seem to match the room description. Like no matter which bookcase or shelf I search, it's always dusty tomes and empty boxes.

      Fixed items I have that I haven't found a use for:

      Sapphire cube -- I seem to be able to use it from anywhere, although I'm pretty sure it's supposed to fit in the plaque in the mirror room. I haven't found the other two shapes yet.

      Wooden crank -- it's too large for every square peg I've found.

      Holy water -- other than drinking it I haven't found a use.

      Grey dust - no clue, but it's one of those static items every new game.

      There are also the more random gems, coins, and other treasure that seem to have an obvious use. I'm figuring since those are more random they're not used for puzzles, but I could be wrong.

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    5. It doesn't help that the parser sometimes gets confused with shortcuts. Examine the "azure crystals" in one room, and it will examine the "azure wand" instead if you are carrying it.

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    6. Those a little more forgivable I think. I'm assuming when that happens it would have given a "nothing useful" response otherwise.

      In one room I tried to examine some holes, but it kept giving me the description for my holy water. One way to get around this is to drop those items it's in inadvertently describing in another room. Out of sight, out of mind.

      While I'm at it, there's some more strange things I haven't done anything with.

      Steel door in gallery - in the north and west galleries is a steel door with water beading on the outside, there's seemingly no way to open it...

      Hunter's room -- I'm not sure what the point of this room is, possibly to meet the hunter if I didn't randomly come across him already. Strangely the trophies are described as wooden in the room, but upon closer examination are ivory... no way to pick them up.

      Platform room -- seems strangely empty. Not sure if the pyramids are only a description of the walls or something more. And, why is it called the platform room...

      From the command list, I haven't used KNOCK, LISTEN always seems to produce a silent dungeon even just after I've heard giggling or some other noise from afar, PRY doesn't seem to do anything though I the thought a prying out the emeralds from the elevator and maybe replacing them with another gemstone.

      Last thing to mention are the spell casting classes. None of the spells seem to actually do anything, and maybe they're only useful in combat. All the puzzle solving seems class independent, and fixed items are the only ones used to solve them.

      I don't think I've solved any of the riddles. Not sure if the jumble of letters on the doors with the archaic book are anything to solve.

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    7. So, I solved one riddle, now at 42%, but that didn't really give me anything else to go on.

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    8. Apparently, solving that riddle gives some variance to score, and it's possible to "solve" it multiple times to increase score/%. One time it gave me 4 points, another time it was 18.

      I got 100%, but no closer to solving any other puzzle: https://imgur.com/HBTXGp9

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    9. zenic, you mention rooms that I never found: bullet room, pillar room, lower elevator, hunter's room, platform room. Clearly, I missed some exit or the solution to some puzzle. Can you write offline and let me know how you got to any of those?

      The wooden crank fits in the wheel on the well in the domed room. It just raises the bucket to the surface. I'm not sure what else there is to do with that.

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    10. huh, I completely missed that in the description. Maybe I should go back through a note any other static items in the room descriptions. How in the world did you get to 43%...

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    11. I have recently started playing this but finding it difficult. I am also stuck how to reach the ceramic jug and what to do with the azure wand. Any help appreciated!

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  5. Spell of annulment sounds a lot more convenient than a divorce lawyer. I love magic.

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    1. More than you love your spouse, by the sounds of it.

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    2. the problem with loving magic for fantastical reasons is one of inversion: if there's a spell of annulment, there's absolutely a ritual binding to the goddess prenuptia

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  6. I love the renaissance of this blog since the merge of the two timelines, the tone in your writing is so much happier, am I the only one that notised this change?

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    1. I can imagine the reason for the immediate change. Towards the end of 1989, there were a spate of games that just wouldn't end and mostly sucked. And commenters kept feeding me new ones. I had to force myself to play just about every session.

      If you mean for a longer period before that, I'm not sure why that would be.

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    2. No it was mostly about the last months with 1989 then your writing turned aa little soure but I am happy that you are back again and giving us intel on all the rpgs we played or will never play or going to pick up because you mention them

      Delete
  7. The description of the final guild course bears an intriguing similarity to the Frobenius series solution of Bessel's famous equations for solving partial differential equations in the case of radial or cylindrical symmetry.

    The alternate universe has not quite transformed it beyond recognition...

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