Saturday, May 25, 2019

Game 328: The Kingdom of Syree (1992)

The game starts with an Ultima IV-like scene except that unlike Ultima IV, nothing happens in the view window.
             
The Kingdom of Syree
United States
Everlasting Software (developer and publisher)
Released in 1992 for DOS
Date Started: 20 May 2019

The moment I fire up a game and see that it's an Ultima clone, I subject it to the "(Z)tats Test." This involves hitting the "Z" key on the keyboard. If doing so produces a screen with the character statistics, I know I'm not dealing with some half-assed "inspired by the look and feel" title like Questron. Any game that passes the "(Z)tats Test" is a proper goddamned clone. There's going to be a wizard with a freaking gem. There's going to be boats with cannons. There's going to be mantras.
          
The Kingdom of Syree is about as much of an Ultima clone as you can get. It not only passes the "(Z)tats Test" but the "(K)limb Test" besides. It's so much of a clone that "T" stands for "Transact" rather than the more obvious "Talk." It has a main menu command titled "Return to the View" even though the view doesn't actually show anything happening. We're dealing with a developer who took a desire to be unoriginal, doubled down on it, and then doubled down again. [Ed: I regret the harshness of this particular sentence, particularly since the game does show some original ideas and ended up being rather fun. See my next two entries.]
            
A bunch of clerics chant a mantra around a fire. I think I've seen this before.
         
As for that developer, I spent a long time following a trail of breadcrumbs and eventually concluded that it is one Thomas Himinez, currently a writer, actor, and script editor for The Doctor Who Audio Dramas, an audio spinoff of the long-running television series. He would have been 25 when The Kingdom of Syree was published. There is no primary author credit in the game except for the company (Everlasting Software), but it is said to be based on three books called The Lost King of Syree, The Sword of Syree, and A Queen for Syree by "Lord Steven." A simple Google search shows that these books never existed in published form, although the first one is quoted on, of all things, a legal discussion forum for landlords. The poster on the forum is named "Lighthope," which is also the name of an NPC in The Kingdom of Syree. Meanwhile, the only publications I can find by "Lord Steven" are a series of books called Tigers' Quest, which were turned into audio plays and films, directed by Thomas Himinez of "Everlasting Films," who according to one magazine goes by the AKA "Lighthope." Q.E.D., as they say. Sorry for the digression, but the authorial mystery was more interesting than the game.
            
The Kingdom of Syree takes place a few decades after the nation of Syree, in the Land of Sheol, threw off a tyrannical ruler named Rancit in favor of a good king named Telbor. Telbor has ruled for 30 years in wisdom and peace, but now the beat of war drums pulses over the hillsides, and monsters have been appearing across the land. This leads to my favorite paragraph in the backstory:
          
The court wise men soon discovered that the evil was not the work of some warmonger seeking to overthrow the kingdom, but rather the work of a powerful, malevolent wizard. The approaching storm marked his growing power. Secretly, this wizard worked his evil magic, growing in power every day. What his intentions were were obvious: the conquest of Syree.
          
Got that? It's not a warmonger seeking to overthrow the kingdom; it's a wizard seeking to conquer Syree! The distinction is clear. Anyway, no knights have gone off in pursuit of the wizard, although many heroes have embarked on quests to find him. These heroes have not all failed to return, although none of them have ever come back.
               
Not only do I start off with just a dagger and cloth armor, the dagger isn't even christened.
          
Character creation consists only of a name. The character is assigned 20 points each in strength, agility, and stamina, and starts the game with 100 food, 100 gold, 100 hit points, a dagger, and cloth armor.  He starts next to the town of Ludden, which is apparently his home town, given the number of NPCs who say "welcome home" when he talks to them. There's also a large house with his name written on it, which I admit is something I've never seen in Ultima or any other Ultima clone.
              
This is rather cool, if also a little ostentatious.
           
NPC interaction is a mix between the one-liners of Ultima II and III and the keyword-based dialogue of Ultima IV. When you find yourself talking to the latter type of NPC, he of course responds to NAME and JOB, and then you can usually pick up the rest of the keywords from those responses.
              
Shops in town sell weapons, armor, food, ale, and a night's rest. Food is crazy expensive--like 15 gold pieces per ration, although rations admittedly deplete slowly.
          
It will be a long time before I can afford that plate mail.
        
The NPC discussions in Ludden centered around the attribute of agility. One NPC warned me that adventurers with low agility won't survive long; another said that the guards are very agile people and I should ask them about it. It ultimately transpired that a cleric named Shalea was searching for a mantra, and if I could give it to him, he would give me a spell to raise my agility. I found some other clerics chanting the word--AHRHEM--and fed it to Shalea, who gave me a one-use spell word that raised my agility to 60.
           
That was a big boost.
         
Lacking anything else to do in my home town, I began exploring the continent. Like any good Ultima clone, Syree is a twisting landscape of peninsulas, islands, mountain ranges, and forests, with vision often obscured by terrain. Combat is relatively rare, and with the types of monsters you're used to from Ultima, including skeletons, thieves, and evil clerics. Combat regresses to the original Ultima: you just hit (A)ttack and specify a direction. Presumably, once I learn how to cast spells, I'll be able to do that, too.
            
Fighting a thief just north of a dungeon entrance.
         
There's no inflation of experience here. A thief is worth 1 point, a cleric 2, a skeleton 3, and so forth. There doesn't appear to be any fixed leveling. Instead, your experience points are continually added to your maximum hit points, although using a formula that I haven't yet figured out. (Since the game began, I've earned 53 experience but only 21 additional max hit points, if that helps.) Hit points restore slowly as you move around, or you can pay healers and inns to restore them faster.

An NPC eventually told me that there are 5 towns, 3 villages, and 2 castles to explore, but only a few are accessible from the starting mainland: Ludden, Emara ("City of Kings"), and Barren Sheol. There's a castle, but I'm unable to enter because apparently peasants just can't go entering castles--which makes sense when you think about it. I always thought it was odd that just anyone could wander into Lord British's throne room and bedchambers.
             
How rude.
         
Among my explorations, I learn that EIDO is some kind of mapping spell, I can learn about magic in the town of Lost (which is rumored to be just a rumor), and that I'll need keys to jimmy locks.
        
An apprentice cartographer gives me a spell name.
        
There is one dungeon (Mysti) accessible on the opening mainland. Dungeons break the Ultima style by being top-down, but movement is a little different because dungeons track facing direction while the outdoor areas and towns do not. The facing direction determines who you're attacking when you hit "A" and down which hallways you can see. It also creates a bit of a "stutter" as you move around, because when you change direction you have to hit the appropriate arrow key twice. It's innovative but not terribly necessary.

Dungeons have both monsters and chests, and they respawn when you leave and return. Chests on Level 1 seem to have 0-10 gold pieces; those on Level 2 have 11-20, and so forth. It's pretty easy, if time consuming, to enter, grab a lot of gold, leave, and get healed if necessary. Slowly, I upgraded from a dagger and cloth to a mace and leather, and soon I'll have a sword and chainmail. This opening phase seems to be largely about improving weapons, armor, and maximum hit points, and then ultimately saving enough gold for a boat.
           
Fighting a cleric in a dungeon.
           
The Kingdom of Syree is hardly the worst Ultima clone, or even worst game, that we've seen, but it just happens to reach me at a time when I'm thoroughly exhausted with this particular sub-genre. At least, unlike The Seventh Link, it doesn't appear this one is going to take very long. The game files themselves suggest about 10 towns and castles and a few dungeons. If I can wrap it up in two, that will be good.
       
Time so far: 3 hours
 

40 comments:

  1. Awesome! Can NEVER get enough Ultima clones... best stuff ever in my book.

    Ahhh... Chet, what are you doing with that evil gleam in your eyes and why are you breaking that bottle?

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  2. Your sarcasm is completely misplaced. Wizards are no warmongers, they're peaceful creatures with modest demands. He most certainly asked the king to hand over the kingdom politely at first, and only had to resort to violence, with a heavy heart, after the king failed to see reason and refused. He's just doing what has to be done - it's not his fault that those kings are stubborn as mules!

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  3. Be glad it's just Ultima clones for now. One day, you're going to reach the era of Diablo clones :p

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  4. An Ultima clone? This was unexpected.
    So can we say Chet is officially scared of Darklands?

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    1. Syree has been ahead of Darklands on the list for weeks. As it happens, I've started Darklands and am having a great time. First entry on Tuesday at midnight.

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    2. Darklands has a very helpful feature which I think is mentioned in the manual or the readme but which I always forget about when playing it again after a while: Press shift while you hover the mouse over an encounter option and you get a rough estimate of the chance of it succeeding - either for the character who performs the action or the entire party.

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    3. AH you ll see that Darklands is an outstanding game, until one day you boot it up and you suddenly realize it overstayed its welcome.

      As for this current game - I guess you will never be able to complete "an history of Western cRPG" but I suppose you will soon be able to complete " an History of Ultima-clones"

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    4. How do people actually pronounce history? Don't you say the h? It always looks weird to see "an history" because it is very awkward to pronounce when you say history with a hard h. "A history" is a lot more natural to me than "an history"

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    5. It looks weird because it's wrong (or, to be more exact, archaic): https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/usage/a-historic-event-or-an-historic-event

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    6. I've heard plenty of British academics (including historians) pronounce it that way. In fact, it can be difficult to distinguish between "an historian" and "a Nestorian."

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    7. I must be missing something, because so far Darklands presents itself as a kind of medieval, land-based Pirates! where you don't so much "win" as retire, with a lot of player choice as to when that retirement takes place.

      Buck, thanks so much for the tip. That's practically game-changing.

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    8. There is more going on than either the manual of the game’s initial premise lead you to believe. But it can take a while for this to become evident.

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    9. Darklands has a main quest, but you have to kinda stumble upon it, there's almost no direction as to how to start it.

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    10. There is a main quest in Darklands though I'm not sure how you initiate it.

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    11. Darklands is fairly similar to Pirates! in that the game is one big open world adventure, in which the main questline is just as optional as everything else. I'd recommend to get some decent gear and experience before embarking on the main quest though, as it's probably too harsh for beginners. Anyway, to start it:

      Svefg lbh unir gb svaq n Jvgpu'f Uvtu Fnoong. Gurer ner n srj bcgvbaf, ohg gur rnfvrfg vf creuncf ivfvgvat ivyyntrf. Gurer'f n punapr gur ivyyntref ner urergvpf, naq qrsrngvat gurz gryyf lbh gur qngr naq ybpngvba bs gur fnoong.

      Gur arkg pyhr vf tvira ng gur fnoong. Znxr fher lbh cnl nggragvba, vg'f uvqqra va n jnyy bs grkg.

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    12. I looked it up and the shift-hint is mentioned in the manual, page 28. What I wasn't aware of is that it depends on the difficulty setting - you get no help on expert level, exact percentages on basic level. I've never played anything but standard.

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    13. Doesn't people still create ultima-clones, it seems like something that would still have an active community?

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    14. stepped pyramidsMay 27, 2019 at 9:41 PM

      I used to be involved in the community for Blades of Exile, which was the fourth game in Spiderweb Software's Exile series (which is very much Ultima-inspired) and which had a scenario editor for user-created games. Lots of really good stuff there. That was in the early 2000s, though. Realmz was a similar game creation system at the time.

      I'm not sure if there's a reasonably up-to-date Ultima-style game engine out there. BoE was made open source, but we're talking about a codebase originally created for Mac System 7 and Windows 3.1. The UI feels extremely clunky today. I used to occasionally try to create such an engine but my ambitions would rapidly outstrip my abilities.

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  5. LeggedRevolutionMay 26, 2019 at 12:35 AM

    I really enjoyed reading about Detective Bolingbroke tracking down the missing Lord Steven. It has much more going on plot-wise than this game!

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  6. I'm always thoroughly impressed with some of the developer/publisher/game histories you're able to sleuth.

    There are days I have issues finding my house keys in my trouser pockets!!

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    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    2. Speculating as to my work history--even when wrong, as anonymous was, is unwelcome on my blog.

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    3. Since when was that a rule? It just goes to prove how interesting people find you

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    4. Since when did "do not creepily pry into somebody's life" need to be an explicit rule?

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    5. He's mentioned it a number of times throughout the blog, although it's not explicitly in the rules for the comment section.

      Besides, if he just wants to be CRPG Addict and not have his name on this for now, that's his right.

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    6. Anonymous wasn't idling speculating for fun. He was being a troll and using information he thought he gleaned from a mistake I made some months ago. It's not the first time I've had to delete such comments, and I'll have to switch to full moderation if it happens again.

      I don't mind someone saying, in fun, "I'll bet you're a ship's captain given all you clearly know about ocean travel!" I do mind someone trying to dox me.

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    7. Just in case my meaning wasn't clear, my statement was "Nobody should have to tell you this, it should go without saying".

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    8. Do not disrupt the Addict's flow or we will find you.

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  7. We're dealing with a developer who took a desire to be unoriginal, doubled down on it, and then doubled down again.

    I feel this is a really unkind characterization. When people see something they like, they want more of it. If there is no more forthcoming, they'll make it themselves.

    Ultima left a long shadow. Unfortunately, there weren't many Ultima games. Opening up a game, finding it was like Ultima - but all mixed up - would have been great. Even today there is a market for "Randomizers" which take games like Zelda 1, 2, 3 and make them playable again, even by experienced players who long ago memorized everywhere.

    When this is done right, you can even surpass the original. Round off its sharp edges and give it more of what it did right.

    There's more to creativity than originality.

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    1. I feel like the randomizers are a bit of a flawed comparison. With those, you're very explicitly getting the original game, but mixed up, while with the Ultima clones, there's probably not going to be the expectation of it being a clone that has nothing original going for it. After all, a different game should be something more than a seral numbers filed off copy of another one, especially if it's one that you have to pay for

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    2. I agree in principle that games that were inspired by popular predecessors are not necessarily a bad thing.

      Games like Wizardry, Ultima, Doom, Dune 2 inspired a lot of similar games that ended up being equally as good or better than their inspiration.

      But honestly there are limits to it: from Chester's description, there is almost no spark of creativity in the game, aggravated by the fact that it is a 1992 game that it is trying to copy games that are almost 10 years older.

      That said, getting a finished, reasonably polished game out is HARD, even more so in those times, where there was no Internet, no tutorials or YouTube videos on how to create games, and "high-level programming language" meant C.

      Devs which actually managed to publish a game still deserve our respect, although maybe not dozens of hours of our (meaning Chester's) time :)

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    3. Harland is right that my words were a bit more insulting than I intended, and I added a note above, particularly since I've played a bit more and find myself enjoying the game.

      Nonetheless, Harland, for most of what you say to be true, the cloner would have to adopt the better parts of the original, and my issue with so many so-called "Ultima clones" is that they don't. They don't fully incorporate the keyword dialogue. They don't incorporate the tactical combat from U4 or U5, or the more complex inventories of U5, and they tell far more banal stories. They generally remain stuck, in part or in total, in the U1/U2 period, which wasn't all that good.

      I agree that if you took U4/U5's full features and offered a new plot, you'd have a good game. That simply isn't what most clones do.

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    4. Speaking of Wizardry, does anyone else read Telbor as a slight derivation of Trebor?

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    5. I was reading the same thing into it.

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  8. The ARHREM mantra makes me think of a group of (evil)c politely clearing their throats in unison *ahem*

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  9. Couple things.

    First, this blog is now the first entry when searching for "crpga" on google, my usual method of finding it.

    nice.

    Second, what would you guys recommend playing first when the opportunity arises: underrail or atom rpg?

    God bless.

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    1. Are you well versed in Russian litterature / culture ? And by "well-versed" I mean either you come from a Russian-speaking country or if you did not you did an active, deep and sustained focus on Russian litterature / culture in your life ?
      If yes => Atom RPG
      If not => Atom RPG dialogs will sound like gibberish with no head nor tail. Go for underrail.

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    2. I'm not Russian but I do like Slavic culture (nowhere near knowledgeable enough to get half of ATOM's references tho), and ATOM is great. Even when you don't get what the references are about, the game is just a top notch RPG

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    3. I suppose as a BG 1/2 and Fallout 1/2 fan I am irresistibly drawn to Atom. I think the only thing really in the way is this deep seated urge to defeat DCSS first :)

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