Thursday, May 30, 2019

The Kingdom of Syree: Acceptance

The King of Syree bestows the main quest.
Facing an Ultima clone often sends me into a process akin to the Kübler-Ross five stages of grief. 
  • Denial: "Aw, hell. Not another Ultima clone. What--it even has a (Z)tats command? No. No $&@#!* way."
  • Anger: "What the hell was wrong with independent developers of the period anyway? Why did they all have to clone Ultima? Why aren't there more Gold Box clones? Bastards!"
  • Bargaining: "Okay, if someone has posted a world map to a spoiler site, I'll play the damned game. Otherwise, I'm going to find a reason to reject it."
  • Depression: "Of course not. No one's ever heard of it. Well, I guess I'll start character creation. Oh, just a name? That's original. Let's enter the starting town. There's an NPC. NAME. JOB. Good god, how many times am I going to have to do this?"
  • Acceptance
The world of Sheol.
Once I resolve to making maps, taking careful notes, and tracking a "to do" list, I almost always start to enjoy the game more than in its first few hours, when I'm just half-playing it and hoping for a quick win like Zerg.

So now that I'm settled into it, I can see that Syree is competently-created. It borrows heavily from Ultima, sure, but in a way that's more clever allusion than direct adaptation. For instance, in the last entry I made fun of the fact that the game had "mantras," but it really doesn't. It just has one mantra, in the opening town, and it's a solution to a different kind of puzzle than is presented in Ultima IV. Similarly, although the game has a town called Yew, a dungeon called Deceit, and a spell called SEQUITU (which it takes from Ultima III), from the other town, dungeon, and spell names, it's clear that the author was capable of originality. He just decided to pay homage once in a while.
Was the jester really necessary?
The world of Sheol turns out to be 100 x 100, occupying coordinates 0-99 on both axes. It wraps. The same size is used for all the city maps, and I find it too big. I can't possibly justify the time it would take to map each city the same way I did the outer world, and yet it's big enough that you can overlook entire buildings as you explore. (Frequent twisty mountain passages and dark forest squares don't help.) Plus, NPCs have a very wide wandering range in the cities, making it easy to overlook them. For a while, I pinned my hopes on the ability to cast the EIDO spell, which provides a magic map, but when I got it, it turns out it shows only a slightly larger area than the regular view window. I just had to resign myself to looping each city multiple times.
Specifically, EIDO shows a 17 x 15 area where the regular view shows a 9 x 7 area.
The game world (Sheol) consists of two major continents: Syree (north) and Garrett (south). Syree has six towns, a castle, and two dungeons. The towns include the starting town, Ludden, where I have a house. Barren Sheol on the east peninsula is where I spent a lot of time healing and buying food, as the dungeon I used for grinding was nearby. It's one of the easiest towns to navigate, as it's arranged in a simple block with four exits and services in the middle. The town of Lost is cut off from the rest of the continent by mountains. Coel is nestled in some southern mountains. It seems to consist of one huge building with a locked door, which I can't access until I find some keys. Emara is the fourth town, and the fifth, Phanteo Eifcon, is on an island in a lake, so I'm not sure how to reach it. The two dungeons are Mysti and the Dungeon of Fire (borrowed from Ultima III).

On Garrett, we have the castle, where King Dakar and Queen Cirrey rule, the town of Yew, and two other towns called River Bend and Doe Shameh. There's a dungeon called Deceit and another on an island. (It must be the Dungeon of Water, but I don't know how to reach it.) The only location not on one of the two main continents is a dungeon called Kehol in an archipelago of mountains.

About half this session was spent grinding in the dungeons. The dungeon called Kehol has a particular purpose, which I'll cover in a bit, but most of them seem to exist for just gold and experience. They're all multi-leveled, the highest I've found going to Level 9. It's probable that they all go that deep and I just didn't find the ladders in all of them. As you descend, the monsters get harder but the chests have more treasure. More important, the dungeons are seeded with fountains. Some of them harm you, some heal you, and some do nothing. You have to find and record the positions of those that heal you, at which point you can grind nearly indefinitely on those levels.
Opening multiple chests while I approach a fountain.
Via grinding, I slowly assembled better equipment, culminating in a crossbow and plate armor, and then saved enough for a ship. (The game is like Ultima II in that killing enemies with cannons still rewards you with gold and experience. But it makes things fair by requiring you to shoot from an adjacent square, allowing them to attack you at the same time.) I then mapped the world and revisited or re-visited most of the locations. I was stymied in many of the cities by locked doors, and only late in this session did I finally find a guild shop, where you can buy keys, in the city of Yew.
I blast a dragon off the map with my cannons.
It also took me a while to figure out the magic system. I kept getting hints about spells and spell names, but I was unable to cast them because I didn't have any magic points. It turns out that to cast spells, you have to develop a "wisdom" statistic which is set to 0 at the outset of the game. To do that, you have to descend into the dungeon called Kehol. At various level intervals, you find altars that increase your agility, stamina, and strength by 1 for every 100 gold pieces that you sacrifice.
Approaching an altar in Kehol.
On Level 9 of Kehol is an altar that gives you 1 point of wisdom for every 1 point of strength that you sacrifice. So you want to pay to build up your strength first, then trade it for wisdom. This involves multiple trips to other dungeons to collect money first, since Kehol has no chests of its own. Once you have wisdom, your spell points start to generate--1 for each point of wisdom. Spell costs start at 15-20 for basic offensive and healing spells and go as high as 99.
Sacrificing strength for wisdom.
On the main quest, one element of frustration is that NPCs are extremely obtuse in regards to the keywords they respond to. One says, "I used to forge armour." The prompt for the next point is not FORGE or ARMOUR or even ARMOR, but rather USED. Late in the session, I discovered that if you only feed a single letter, the NPC will automatically fill in any keyword that begins with that letter and answer to it, so if you find yourself talking with a particularly taciturn NPC, you can get information out of him by just going through the alphabet.

Some of the quest lines I'm following:

  • Grover the Terrified was hiding in a cave in Yew. He said that he was hiding from King Dakar of Garrett and his "hallucinations." He recommended that I find a dispel spell to reveal the king for what "it" is. This spell might be the same as ALETHEIA, which "forces a liar to tell the truth." ALETHEIA requires "infinite" magic points, but I met a former wizard named Donnal in Lost who said that he used to have "infinite magic" and that by talking with him I acquired his power to "cast one infinite magic spell." I don't know if that means one spell one time or one spell as many times as I need it. In any event, casting ALETHEIA and then talking to King Dakar doesn't seem to do anything.
I did hear he's HYDRA.
  • At the healer in Barren Sheol, I find a king's guard named Swiftwind who was injured trying to slay the wizard. Of the wizard, he'll only say that he's not where one expects him to be. But anyway, to defeat him I will need the Sword of Emara, forged by King Emara ages ago. (Emara is also the name of a city.) At the castle, King Telbor of Syree tells me that the Sword of Emara was stolen by Rancit (the evil usurper from the backstory), but King Emara might know where it is. This confused me, as King Emara is dead and buried in a sepulcher in the same castle, but another clue that "white blocks mark the tombs" inspired me to try talking to the tomb. When I did, I somehow ended up conversing with Emara, who told me to ask around the city of Coel for the saber.
Speaking with King Telbor about the Sword of Emara. He'll HEAL me if I ask.
  • I visited Coel late in this session because it requires a key to enter the main building. Coel is hidden amidst dark mountains and forests. The people are obsessed about their own safety and beg me not to tell other people that the city exists. No one responds to SABER, EMARA, or SWORD, but there's a wizard on an island that I don't know how to reach.
In keeping with their desire to remain isolated, Coel's prices are 10 times higher than anywhere else in the kingdom. I don't even think you can amass that much gold. I think it caps you at 9,999.
  • Among the spells that people have told me about are EIDO (magic map), THERAPENO (heal), HAELAN (heal a lot), SEQUITU (escape a dungeon), THANATOS (kills an enemy), and HORATOS (see around trees--basically "lights up" dark forests). MAVETH causes "unnatural death," but it just seems to kill me, not enemies.
A wizard teaches me a new spell.
My biggest obstacle at this point seems to be an inability to cross water without a boat. There's one town, one dungeon, and at least one NPC that I can't reach because of local water squares, so there must be some spell or device that I've missed that allows crossing water. I'll have to circle the towns and try again.

Miscellaneous notes:

  • Ultima had a problem by which you could find artifacts by just searching at obvious places even if you hadn't received a clue about them. Syree gets around this by making you specify what you're searching for when you hit (S)earch.
  • One of the things you can search for is books. There are two libraries in the game where you find books by standing to the right of the appropriate letter. It was a book called Treowth that gave me information about the ALTHEIA spell.
Searching for a book in the library.
  • About half of the game's files are music files. It apparently has different tunes for different situations. I can't get any of the music to work, owing to some kind of Adlib problem. I wouldn't play it anyway, but I at least wanted to mention it. 
  • Like a few of the early Ultima games, you can (T)alk to enemies as they attack. They shout insults and threats. 
  • Last entry, I couldn't enter the castle because I was a peasant. The solution seems to be purchasing and wearing chain or plate armor, which marks you as wealthy, if not nobility.
  • Other past kings named in the sepulcher: Donovin, Sharella, Favren, and Basilikos Mnemeion. 
I speak to a dead king among the remains of his ancestors and descendants.
  • You occasionally run into enemies frozen in place in the dungeons. You miss them with every attack and they don't attack you at all, but they will insult you if you talk to them. I'm not sure if these are bugs or if they have some other purpose.
I'm just going to have to find a way to live with not having access to that fountain.
  • One interface improvement over most Ultima clones (and Ultima itself): turns don't automatically "pass" at regular intervals if you just stand there doing nothing. I appreciate not having to hunt for a "pause" if I want to take a break.
  • You cannot save in dungeons or towns, only outdoors.
  • If you try to cast a non-existent spell, the game wipes all your spell points. That seems a harsh punishment for a typo.
  • Supposedly, "taphouses are a great source of rumors," but I've never gotten a bartender to respond to a single keyword. I'll have to re-visit them all and try the "one letter" trick.
  • The game preached to me at one point. I don't know if this is a reflection of the author's beliefs or if I was supposed to get something in-game from this. I tried all the keywords from the resulting passage and got nothing.
Why would this world even have the Christian bible?
In the end, Syree has shaped up into a fair Ultima-like treasure hunt. I like the character development system (experience goes directly to maximum health) and the way that the altars serve as a near-endless money sink after you've bought the best stuff. If I can conclude it in another session, it will be a satisfying game.

Time so far: 11 hours


  1. BG 3 from Larian?

    1. I really hope not. I'd hate to see the DnD classic loot system replaced with the god-awful, Diablo-style loot system that Larian used in DOS 1 & 2. God, those games were awful.

    2. What is the "DnD classic loot system"? The original Baldur's Gate was based on D&D 2e. Presumably the new game will be based on 5e. What's the meaningful difference?

    3. I was really hoping beamdog would get to make this, I really like what they did to enhance the games.

    4. yeah but isn't larian a lot of the old original BG people?

    5. D&D style loot has little randomization- specific items do specific things. A +1 Longsword always deals 1d8+1 damage, a sword named "Evilslayer" might deal 1d8 extra damage to evil foes, and it always has this effect.

      Diablo style loot has a lot of randomized stats. No two helmets have the same numbers, and figuring out which differences are meaningful and which ones are useless is part of the metagame. I don't remember Divinity Original Sin going *too* hard on that, compared to an actual Diablo game, but it did have significant randomization, which made the loot feel less unique. It's definitely NOT 5e style.

      That said, the main difference between old D&D and 5E's loot system is that you get a lot less of it. Less coins, less stuff to use coins on, and you even have a limit on the number of magical items you can equip- 3 items total. I suppose this is meant to keep minmaxing down, but in reality I've found it just leads to players keeping the items with the highest stat bonuses and tossing the rest. Regardless of my personal critiques towards the system, it's generally supposed to de-emphasize loot hunting, and I'm not sure that would be a great fit for a video game.

    6. While I don't know about 4E or 5E (I've switched to GURPS for most of my tabletop gaming these days), D&D was fully capable of a Diablo-style loot system as far back as the original release. Quite literally Diablo-like - the originial booklets contained a set of tables to randomly generate magical swords.

    7. Those tables still exist, but the effects they produce are both stronger and more different than the array of small differences possible in a Diablo-Esque loot system, where the wider variety of strengths and types of bonuses coupled with the more complicated system make determining the actual strength of one item versus another problematic to say the least.

    8. In Diablo the range of stats was greater. For example, +1 to armor was almost unnoticeable. So a piece of armor would have a range for each stat it could have. So instead of +5 AC with a +1 bonus, it would have +50 to +70 armor. Including for magical bonuses. And it would have a quality bonus with around five levels. So even if you found the exact same piece of armor the stats would be different on each piece. Missing just a single stat off of being perfect (best in all stats) would affect the value to other players by a significant amount.

    9. The biggest difference I recall about BG vs Diablo is BG was like an epic RPG tale, and diablo was like an arcade game with some rpg elements.

      I still remember a party-member betrayal from BG... And memorable characters. Story, characters, strong story.

      I worry about a BG sequel. Wasteland 2 was a letdown, personally...

    10. Larian is a Belgian studio and I don't believe has any former Baldur's Gate folks on-board -- Chris Avellone has done some consulting for them but I think that's about the only link to the old Bioware/Black Isle lineage. You might be thinking of Beamdog, who's done the enhanced editions of the old IE games -- they do have a few Bioware vets on staff.

  2. A large number of the spells are just slight variations on Greek words. Eido is Greek for 'I see,' thanatos is 'death', Therapeno is almost the word for 'I heal', and aletheia is 'truth.' The other spells seem to be invented terms. I suppose the Harry Potter tradition of spells that are almost Latin had a precedent, with spells that are almost Greek. Ancient Greek, I should clarify, though the words may still be the same.

    1. Thanks for noting this. The spell names all seemed annoyingly familiar in some way, but I didn't realize they were consistently Greek.

    2. On that note, "MAVETH" is Hebrew for "death".

  3. Missed one. Horatos is 'visible'

  4. I noticed that too, Ryan. And the former king Basilikos Mnemeion means “royal monument.”

    Don’t see Greek too often in CRPGs. Except Quest for Glory V, I guess.

    1. In retrospect, I think Basilikos Mnemeion is the name of the location, not one of the kings buried there.

  5. I'm outside my experience now, but it seemed odd to invent terms for the other spells after drawing so consistently on ancient Greek for the rest. It looks like Maveth is Hebrew for death, and sequitur seems to be part of the Ultima homage, as it was a dungeon escape spell from Ultima 3.

    1. Sequitur also means "he/she/it follows" in Latin.

  6. There is at least one obvious reason why we see so many Ultima clones in that time period rather than e.g. Gold Box games clones: throwing together a block based game engine is not hard. It is rather easy to program and easy to draw the graphics and can be done by a single dedicated high school student in a reasonable amount of time.

  7. So there's a continent named Garrett, and the world is called Sheol?

    This is a funny coincidence. The protagonist in the stealth game Thief is called Garrett, and there's a Thief fan mission named "The Broadsword of Sheol". I wonder if the modder who made that map had played Kingdom of Syree before.

    1. "Sheol" is the Hebrew word for "Hell", "Hades", "the afterlife", etc.

    2. I think it's named after Richard Garriot.

  8. Are there modern Ultima I-III/IV clones? Are there any that are reasonably short and not a bajillion hours long?

    1. I'd like to know that also.

    2. There is a kickstarter for one called Skald RPG. It looks similar.

    3. I wish there was a way to up-vote posts.

    4. There's an Android game called Lowlander that does a pretty good job of it.

  9. Well, if by modern you mean recently developed and not latest-gen graphics, there's Lurking II: A Madness which is quite good. Not a straight clone though, more like heavily inspired. Lurking I is ok too, but not as fun as II.

  10. I would put money - maybe not a lot, but some money - on the John quote being the author preaching at the player. Sheol is the closest the Jewish faith has to hell/the afterlife (it's better translated as "The Pit"), and, as far as I know, that isn't common knowledge even among Jews. Add that to the Greek and Latin, and it seems like this was written by a religious Christian.

    1. The word Sheol occurs frequently in the old testament, especially the psalms. I'm pretty sure it would be common knowledge to a vast majority of Christians and any religious Jew.

    2. I didn't catch a John quote, unless you are referring to the white blocks in front of the tombs, which is kind of subtle. I think you are right, though- the game's creator had definitely been exposed to biblical languages, and probably in a religious context. Not so sure about the preaching to the player aspect, though, or at least, not any more than Ultima itself did.

    3. Never mind. Should have read the screenshots. Yeah, that was preaching.

    4. Yeah, my further research into the creator suggests a certain evangelical orientation.

    5. A character was quoting scripture to decry hypocrites. The Bible is such a part of our culture it’s little different than a developer having a character quote Shakespeare. I hardly see this as preaching.

    6. I'd say there's a bit of a difference between just quoting the Bible and explicitly telling the player to read a certain part of it

    7. What if there is a link between the Gospel quote and the spell that kills the character? You probably need one more element to complete (or disprove) the puzzle.

    8. The spell that kills the character is used to enter the "Valley of Haunts." There may be some connection there with dying and being born again (John 3:3), although since another character tells you more explicitly what you need to do (and where to do it), sending the player to the Bible isn't strictly necessary.

    9. So I’m religious myself, so I don’t mind if a game is informed by religious ideas, but I think it has to be done well. Having a spell cause you to die and be reborn fits that, for me. Subtle, interesting. But breaking the fourth wall to call on the player to read the Bible, particularly when such calls are so strongly associated with preaching, does not.

      You can use real world religious ideas to add fascinating depth to a game, causing thoughtful introspection long after the game is over. Both our friend CRPGAddict and myself were strongly influenced by the Virtues of Ultima, for instance, which presented ideals of conduct in a way that invited contemplation by the player as much as the character. Ultima, at least in that era, did this well.

      Syree was not doing badly in this area, themes were handled with some subtlety, but the 4th wall breaking John quote was an unexpected cudgel.

  11. I still can't get over the whole doth/dost thing. If you don't know which one to use, why are you even trying?

    If þou do so, þou dost not wysli.

    1. People were just trying to sound medieval. Nobody was using grammatically correct Old English. If anyone did, it would probably be unreadable to modern English speakers, like that sentence you just typed.

    2. My pedantry compels me to note that anyone who actually goes to the trouble of using Old English (the language of the Venerable Bede) or Middle English (the language of Geoffrey Chaucer), which are what was spoken in mediæval England, seems likely to do so more or less correctly :)

      What people routinely abuse to create that "mediæval" feel is Early Modern English - the language of William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, and the King James Bible.

    3. My pedantry compels me to note that such an assumption is belied by how common it is for modern writers to make grammatical errors while correcting other people’s grammar.


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